Recent comments

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 10 hours ago

    Dr. Runte is proving that a person can be a progressive conservative. Or conservative progressive -- whichever. Bravo! It IS entirely possible to develop infrastructure that actually works and is not a matter of pouring money into a bottomless pit.

    But that requires wisdom.

    Unfortunately, in America wisdom is too often trumped by politics and a host of special interests who have managed to purchase our politicians.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 10 hours ago

    Zebulon is right. Passenger trains in much of the U.S. suck. But WHY is that the case? The point is: It need not be the case. The question is Why? As I always told my students, history points us to the why.

    In the 1930s, we led the world in every category of high-speed rail passenger service. High-speed then was 100 to 120 mph, but we were doing it in every part of the country. Consequently, with intermediate stops, trains moved between the largest city pairs at an average of 65 mph--about 20 mph faster than Amtrak averages outside the Northeast Corridor today.

    Find me the car going 65 mph consistently. Or for short distances, the airplane when you add in airport travel, security, and gate time. Waiting for luggage takes another 20 minutes--or more. It is not as "fast" as we Americans think.

    But that is what we were told we wanted, and so here we are claiming to want it. My wife wants to sit in traffic every morning (12 miles to work) for an hour or more. Same coming home. When she took the train to Portland last weekend (3 and a half hours and 187 miles each way), she loved it. She read a book; she had a glass of wine; she knitted and looked out the window. But she is not supposed to "want" that. Why? Because the "economy" (auto industry, oil industry, paving industry, shipping industry, trucking industry, Teamsters Union, etc., etc., etc.,), not to mention the chamber of commerce promoting urban sprawl, says she is supposed to like her car better (2009 Chevy Malibu). My God, Christine, you are supposed to drive!

    So yes, Amtrak between Oakland and Truckee sucks. And a lot of other places, too. And when Christine and I take the train to Glacier, we are not supposed to like that, either. As for the Grand Canyon Railway, it is just a tourist train in the eyes of the NPS. "My God, Al, did you see the traffic jam the train caused pulling into the station? Do you mean to say you are supporting that?" (true story).

    As I point out, there is only a "traffic jam" because there are cars waiting at the crossing. Why not another train? Nope. Can't have that. Got to support the economy, yuh know. We can't ask people not to drive! It's the American Way!

    Yes, and it's killing us. And if it happens to be killing the planet with too much CO2, tell me that when you're on the train. When you're in the car you're still part of the real problem, which is too much land killing, atmosphere killing, wildlife killing, and beauty killing in the name of cars. As in Europe, our passenger trains will not suck the moment we wake up, if only we wake up in time.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 11 hours ago

    Pouring money down a hole and diminishing our life style is not moving forward.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 11 hours ago

    The reasons why America has not solved its problems is well illustrated by some of the comments here that decry attempts to move forward instead of backward.

  • Birding In The National Parks: Return Of The Snowy Owls   3 days 11 hours ago

    In reporting our latest blog post, about Snowy Owls in Acadia National Park, we found that 10 Snowy Owls have been reported to eBird so far this season, compared with 12 during the 2013-2014 irruption. Will be interesting to see what the numbers will look like once the season is over. Here's a link to our post, which includes list of all sightings of Snowies in Acadia dating back to 1981, as well as Snowy Owl hotspots in Acadia:

    www.acadiaonmymind.com/2015/01/snowy-owls-acadia-national-park/

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 12 hours ago

    45 years of intransigence by those who refuse to invest in infrastructure and cut our dependence on personal vehicle oil consumption.

    Thank god! Invest? Building a money pit isn't investment and there is nothing wrong with or "dependence on personal vehicle oil consumption".

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 13 hours ago

    The reasons why America has not solved its problems is well illustrated by some of the comments here that decry attempts to move forward instead of backward.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 20 hours ago

    Zeb - I rode the bullet train, high speed rail, from Tokyo to Osaka in the spring of 1970. By my count that is 45 years of intransigence by those who refuse to invest in infrastructure and cut our dependence on personal vehicle oil consumption.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 21 hours ago

    There is an easy solution to overcrowding. It's called time of use pricing. Jack up the price during high season and lower it during the low season.

    Using Switzerland as a model for the US is a bit of a joke. The country is 16,000 sq mi or roughly the size of the Denali, Death Valley and Yellowstone put together. CA has embarked on a high speed train program that is supposed to cost over $60B to link Sacramento, SF, LA and San Diego together.

    Passenger trains also tend to suck royally in the US. Oakland to Truckee by train takes about 5 hours 30mns (and often more) for a trip that takes less than 4 hours in normal traffic. You'd think that Amtrak would have figured a way to make this work by now, especially with 7 m folks living in the SF bay area, the Sierra 200 miles away, and highways overly crowded.

    That being said, I"m not against trains, but they require a large infrastructure with parkings for cars at both ends.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   3 days 22 hours ago

    Just wondering how other issues within the Liberal, Environmental Wing that promote new immigration measures that add millions of new residents and more demands on parks and other areas of society can justify the leanings of their own base or, their leadership. They both are one and the same, no?

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 40 min ago

    What do we do when the carrying capacity of things that were supposed to increase carrying capacity reach their own carrying capacity?

    Roads ( and parks) are like closets. No matter how big you make them, they fill up. Like it or not, you have to use the "uncomfortable" aspect of a crowded park to get people to come at the uncrowded time.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 5 hours ago

    Exactly, Lee, and I am not disagreeing with you. However, first WE need to know what we want before we can "inform" the politicians. And we don't know, because we are part of the problem. I remember when I testified before Congress on a major bill to dismantle Amtrak. The House subcommittee chair was prepared to grill us, and most of us did a poor job grilling him back. We were all over the map, as it were, and not prepared to argue the salient points. We fell for the pejorative term, "rail fan," and did not establish ourselves as true professionals.

    It is much that way with environmental groups today. They are all over the map again and missing the salient points. They all want to be "green," but forget they are victims of a pejorative term. It now takes just one word to shut the argument down. But such and such development is "green." How can you be against something "green?" As I have found, it works much the same as rail fan. We control you. You don't control us. Fans want railroads; Americans want cars. Environmentalists want to obstruct the solution; greens want to encourage it. As the subcommittee chairman said, "Why do you people in the rail groups oppose eliminating these trains?" "Why?" I replied. "Because we are not the problem. The automobile is the problem."

    We forestalled the worst of the cuts, but again, should have forestalled all of them. When we know what we want, Congress will know to ask us the right questions. When David Brower knew what he wanted, he saved Grand Canyon. Right now, the environmental movement couldn't save a brick if the bricklayer pleaded "green!"

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 5 hours ago

    Agreed, Dr. Runte. Railroads or similar systems could probably do a lot to help.

    But again, we come down to the old bugaboos of Political Power and the Power of Dollars.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 5 hours ago

    But Rick, even with the trams in Zion, things are beginning to become jammed up again. On a summer day when the trams are running, parking at the VC is full very early in the morning. A small parking lot just outside the park entrance where people may leave cars and walk in to the tram stop at the VC fills shortly after. Then parking jams every available space along both sides of Springdale's Main (and pretty much only) Street.

    More than a hundred new parking spots are being added to the VC parking lot right now.

    It's not uncommon now for visitors to have to wait for one or even two shuttles before they may board because there are only so many seats and limited standing room on them.

    What do we do when the carrying capacity of things that were supposed to increase carrying capacity reach their own carrying capacity?

    Ron's memory of a hike with a YOSE superintendent and Secretary of Interior takes us directly to the root of the real problem when he tells us of the Secretary's response to the carrying capacity question : "The Secretary, a good person, stated that he got it, but it simply was not politically possible to deny visitor access to the park."

    There's that word again -- POLITICAL.

    And we know that political is really a synonymn for DOLLARS.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 5 hours ago

    Here is how Europe deals with the issue, from my ALLIES OF THE EARTH. Who needs parking lots anywhere outside the parks if you take the train from HOME? My comparison is of course to the Lauterbrunnen Valley, in Switzerland's Bernese Alps.

    "Christine and I next planned a week of research in the Alps, visiting railroads instructive of preserving scenery. Because our obvious choice was Switzerland, I reread an article by Eric Julber, a Los Angeles attorney who had stirred up a hornet’s nest in the 1970s with his suggestion in Reader’s Digest that trains and cable cars should be allowed in Yosemite Valley. Why not perch a restaurant on top of Half Dome; why not a glass of wine with your evening meal? Europeans were doing it everywhere. The American wilderness should be like Switzerland, more accessible if not more civilized. Only elitists maintained that visitors too frail to hike should not be allowed trains and trams.

    "To say the least, most environmentalists at the time, including me, had been incensed. Trains inside the national parks? Finally, in 1982, I had escaped the gulf of cultures and spent a month following in Julber’s footsteps. Exploring the Alps by rail, I found reason to be receptive. In the United States, the biggest scars on the landscape always seemed to be the result of building highways. Americans had built roads through the national parks, so why get upset about building trams? At least we should admit that roads in the parks are invasive too.

    "Ignoring a cable car to Glacier Point (which I still oppose), what about Yosemite Valley? One square mile out of its precious seven had already been developed, much of it under asphalt. A railroad into the valley proper could hardly be more damaging than the highway—it was the highway that fed the parking lots. Eric Julber was closer to the facts than I wished to admit. In no park would the general public tolerate being excluded just to appease environmentalists; however, the public might accept excluding cars if convinced of the necessity. Democracy demanded that the public be given a fair alternative. As in Switzerland, a tastefully designed railroad running on a convenient schedule might be that alternative—both access and preservation would be served. Instead of the 30-foot road and shoulders, the railroad could be just several feet across; its capacity would still be significantly greater than the existing highway."

    Highways and cars we accept (good development); railroads we do not (bad development). How did that prejudice come about? I can see it is time to write another article for The Traveler. Meanwhile, yes, Rick, I agree with Rod. People value what they have to earn, and waiting for a privilege is part of earning it. I would simply suggest they "earn it" by not being "excluded" but rather "filtered," as it were. A light rail system could be that filter. Certainly the highway filters nothing now. You just stuff your trunk and go.

  • National Monuments In Arizona Offering Second Pricing Option For Consideration   4 days 6 hours ago

    All National Monuments, Parks, Historic Sites and other NPS areas should be free to all visitors. The American people have paid for these parks already. No more fees.

    Harry Butowsky

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 7 hours ago

    Parking lots outside with shuttles is a reasonable solution - if only used when the park actually gets congested. Running the shuttle service when there is no congestion is just inconvenient and wastefull. When not busy let people drive in or pay a premium to park close when it is busy. Exactly how Vail does it here in Breck. Pay to park next to the gondola or park in a free lot a few miles away and get bussed to the slopes.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 7 hours ago

    Rick - what did the reservation system at Pearl Harbor get us? Corruption. I could only go for a reservation system if only individuals (no tour groups) could make a reservation and there were a healthy number of "tickets" left for walk-ins.

    I think your test idea is DOA. How about a test at the polls instead?

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 9 hours ago

    Thank you Rick, I have probably commented more than enough, but I agree. The comment, we must either build more infrastructure or begin a control at the entrances coupled with a day use reservation system, resulted from a wonderful day hike I was on with an outstanding Yosemite Park Superintendent and the then DOI Secretary. The Superintendent pointed out to the Secretary that the Park simply cold not accommodate the peak season demand without building more facilities or limiting day use automobiles (80% of visitation to Yosemite Valley is by car during the peak visitor season).

    The Secretary, a good person, stated that he got it, but it simply was not politically possible to deny visitor access to the park. He suggested a plan be made that would put all the visitors on buses. He felt that the issue was not the number of people but rather the number of cars. There it rested until the 1997 flood event and the post flood recovery planning effort. It was determined that in order to accommodate the current visitor use level, the 5th largest transit system in the State would have to be built. Then the issue arose were would the parking lots be constructed to transfer the visitors to the buses. The gateway communities were not supportive, and locations in park created issues of their own. All of this complicated by the fact that many visitors access the east side of the Sierra via the Tioga road during the summer months. A scaled down busing effort entailing just Yosemite Valley (shades of Jenny Lake but without the space), proposed a 500-1000 car parking just east of the Cathedral Spires. This did not solve the issue of park wide congestion and the added problem of turning all the other cars around at the intersection of the new parking area.

    The transportation planners all felt that public transportation could work, but it had to begin in the population centers, it was to late to try to get people out of their cars at the entrances. I think Mr. Al Runte is correct, we need to get back to the trains. Rick, in my less than expert opinion, but having spent about 12 years attending meetings on the issue, I truly believe your suggestion is the most practical at this time. We have many reservation systems already in place, recently I was At Mammoth Cave. While driving into one of the gateway communities, there were sign stating all cave walks for the day filled, reservations needed. I noticed some motels/campgrounds advertising, "stay with us and make your reservations". That is what I did, it worked out great.

    ing more infrastructure

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 10 hours ago

    Ron--I would be hesitant to build more infrastructure in those parks where carrying capacity is already an issue. Most of them have too much infrastructure currently as Drs. Runte and Hoffman have pointed out. I would much rather try to enhance the visitor's experience by limiting the number visitors or spreading them out. Another possibility is a public transportation system such as the one employed in Zion. I remember the bad old days when 10,000 cars, it seems, circled around Zion Canyon looking for 5,000 parking spots. The Canyon now seems much less crowded and frantic with no private vehicles than it did pre-tram days.

    Rick

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 11 hours ago

    I have been on light duty with a pulled muscle, so have had the time to read all the comments on this topic. Very interesting, thank you Traveler. I think R. Smith has a good point, there maybe areas where a day use reservation makes sense, it can be done, and it can be quite equitable. Some systems allow for holding back a % of the quota for first come, first serve, some also allow for one vehicle out, one vehicle in. I remember a trip to Mammoth Cave, as I entered one of the gateway communities, there were sings stating all cave walks full for the day. I wanted to do one, and the local motels/campgrounds advertised "stay with us, we can make a reservation for you". That is what I decided to do, it worked out just great, but required me to be a little more flexible in my travel plans. Visitor capacities are a contentious issue, and as some have pointed out, access by the visitor to the parks is a valid concern. I know managers are reluctant to implement these systems, no one wants to tell our fellow citizens the park is full, and I think that is an appropriate concern. But at some point, we either have to build more infrastructure, or ask people to give a little on the issue. A very interesting listserve discussion.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 12 hours ago

    Before we all move some place else, as ec suggests, maybe we ought to think of a couple different ways to control crowding, thus getting at the carrying capacity question, in some of our more popular parks, How about a reservation system? If you get to Yellowstone on, say, July 15th, and you don't have a reservation, you don't get in. Before everyone throws up his or her hands at the thought, we do this all the time. If I want to go to a concert and the venue is sold out, I don't go there expecting to get in.

    How about an NPS exam? I heard this idea first from a professor at UC Santa Barbara. Dr. Runte will know of whom I speak. If I want to go to Grand Canyon, to qualify for my entrance pass, I have to successfully complete a short exam on the geology of the Canyon. It shows that I have prepared for my visit. This is another thing we are used to. To go to a university, one has to achieve acceptable scores on whatever test is being administered at that time. If I want to drive a car, I have to pass a test showing that I know the traffic laws of the state in which I reside.

    Difficult to administer? Yes, but not all that much more difficult than what hotels and restaurants do with reservations or what a state with a large population such as NY does with drivers licenses.

    And remember, these ideas would only apply to a few park areas in the System where carrying capacity or overcrowding is an issue.

    Rick

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   4 days 23 hours ago

    Thank you Owen, I remember some of those discussions well, in fact at the time plans were already being formulated to increase the size of the Ahwahnee Hotel, build a tramway from Curry Village to Glacier Point, etc., well it was interesting. By 1974, things were well advanced in the planning stages, a new company had replaced YP&C, Roger CB Morton the DOI secretary, appointed by President Nixon, was in support. A young sanitation worker for the NPS, a gentleman by the name of Joe Boland (still a neighbor here in Mariposa County), blew the whistle so to speak, he had connections and Jack Anderson started running columns on the controversy. That did it, a new Superintendent was appointed and the result was the General Management Plan of 1980 which by the way also had a visitor capacity number. It is interesting to note that here it is almost 40 years later, and we are still at the discussion stage of visitor capacities., through the Parks approved Merced River Plan has a visitor capacity number also. A complex issue.

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   5 days 12 min ago

    But it's going to require an almost complete overhaul of the American way.

    Your agenda exposed. If you don't like the "American way" why don't you move elsewhere?

    Guess what? Sales of large SUVs and other guzzlers are going up and up and up.

    So what?

  • Op-Ed| The National Park Service Could Learn A Few Things From Its African Colleagues   5 days 26 min ago

    I agree entirely, Alfred. But it's going to require an almost complete overhaul of the American way. Just witness what's happening right now. After several years of gas prices between $3 and $4, people were starting to buy smaller fuel efficient vehicles. But now, gas prices have dropped and stayed down for nearly Three Whole Months! Guess what? Sales of large SUVs and other guzzlers are going up and up and up.

    Churchill was absolutely correct.

    So was Mike Finley. Almost always the mess we've created in the past will continue to dictate how the future will be handled.