Monday, February 28, 2011

Are Our National Parks Over Regulated

There is an interesting article on The National Parks Traveler blog posing the question of having a National Park that is not regulated.  You can read this at this link:

This article prompted several thoughts;

This is a very interesting discussion that goes to the core of the dilemma found in the mission of the National Park Service.  Most of the issues and complaints about regulations in parks come from local people attempting to make a living off of the park.  I do not begrudge them their livelihood, but how many National Parks have economic development in their enabling legislation?  Is that why we have parks?

This reminds me of a situation I faced as a District Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The National Park Service purchased over 3,000 acres of land that directly adjoined the Park for the protection of the Appalachian Trail.  In the mid 1980s the plan was for the property to be managed by AT volunteers.  The trail community did not want park rangers on the lands enforcing regulations.  The idea was that this would be a protected corridor for the Appalachian Trail but free of National Park Service enforcement.  Orders for my staff and I were to stay off this Park Service  property.  Once hikers were confronted by aggressive armed hunters, ATV's running through trout streams and the trail caused damaging erosion, trees were cut along the boundaries to expand yards and for firewood, and trash built up in illegal campsites the volunteers, State Officials in Richmond, Va, and the then Appalachian Trail Conference Office came to me demanding that the park rangers from The Blue Ridge Parkway do something about the threats to visitors and resources on these lands purchased so they would have National Park protection.  We did step in and detailed additional rangers to the area to gain some level of compliance for resource protection.  Today a written agreement provides for the Blue Ridge Parkway's rangers to provide law enforcement, fire, and search and rescue response to this area.

Although this may not have been as dramatic an example as the situations outlined in the original article, it does illustrate what happens in a National Park Service area that is not subject to regulations and enforcement.  Unfortunately, National Park designation does not come with an automatic sense of respect from everyone.  In an ideal world all people would hold sacred a special place that has been set aside for protection and preservation.  In our world this does not happen.  There are always those who do not see the impact of their own actions and are more concerned with their immediate gratification.  Everyday it is a struggle and challenge for park managers to find balance between permitting access and public use of areas and conserving those same resources so they will be around in the future.  In many instances such as with the Piping Plovers at Cape Hatteras, courts step in and order the National Park Service to take stronger steps to protect natural and cultural resources.

I know that I am biased after more than 32 years as a National Park Ranger, but I would rather see my parks over regulated so I know they will be there for my grandchildren and their grandchildren.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this issue while working on my master's in environmental education - and had to do some research on RS 2477. It's a big problem in Utah, especially in the Escalante National Monument and surrounding areas. It's breaking my heart to see the destruction caused by people who think they have a right to ride their OHVs and dirt bikes anywhere they want. I totally agree with your last sentence. Thanks for the link.