Thoughts on National Parks Week

National Park Week starts this Saturday and continues to the following Sunday. Admission is even free on April 20th.

While it is tempting to celebrate the rightfully natural wonders and scenic beauty of the often named “America’s best idea,” I tend to think of what is the coming future of national parks.

With anticipated cuts of 14% overall to Dept of Interior budget, or nearly $3bn for the NPS alone, the parks are facing a significant shortfall in addition to the $11bn already backlogged needed for repairs to the existing infrastructure.   

The cuts come at a time when day use is expanding by leaps and bounds.  Exemptions for cuts naturally include oil, mineral, and other forms of energy extraction subsidies and funds. A cynic might compare the current times to the Gilded Age. Perhaps.

Throw in the changing climate and the challenges forced by that change and the future of the NPS could be problematic in many ways.

Some semi-random thoughts on what might be ahead:

  • More reliance on volunteers and concessionaires to fill in the void left by budget cuts.  I am biased because I make part of my income guiding now in the nearby national parks. But I also realize that part of my income stream is because there is fewer park staff able to lead people on guided hikes that are obviously in demand. As much as I love guiding, I don’t think it should be a privilege just for people with extra money to have well-informed and enthusiastic guides to places within the park. Or to use an analogy, I am not against Uber or Lyft. But I don’t think they should be the only option, either.  And I still think we’ll see a privatizing as such things as not only campgrounds, but booths, maintenance staff, and similar support services in the near future.  We see “the nose of the camel in the tent” to allow more corporate influence for such things as increased connectivity in the increasingly posh campgrounds or even increased mineral extraction.

From Venues Now

From the NPS, 2016.



From the NPS

  • Of course, it is not doom and gloom.  The parks are beautiful and treasured. America tends to swing to extremes. We’ll adjust.  Perhaps in the near future, we’ll have the equivalent of the Mission 66 initiative.  Under this initiative, the American public felt that the parks are something we need to invest in overall. Something that represents the best of us and what our country means to the world. Our legacy in many ways.  It happened once. Maybe it will happen again?

Chief’s Head in Rocky Mtn National Park

Further reading?  An interesting read about the future of the National Park service is Uncertain Path: A Future of the National Parks. Written by an NPS ranger, the book looks over some of the issues discussed above and more, but in further detail.   And I suggest reading  Wilderness Ethics: Preserving the Spirit of Wildness, too.

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5 years ago

Thanks for the great wake-up article. I was dismayed when I went to Yellowstone, and the traffic was heavier than downtown on Saturday night.

Another Kevin
Another Kevin
5 years ago

Once again, you make me thankful that I live (and mostly hike) in New York State, which was wise enough to read wilderness preservation into the state constitution. “The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.” The conservation department can be and has been underfunded, the law is enforced with more or less strictness,… Read more »

Another Kevin
Another Kevin
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

In Utah’s defense, New York doesn’t have 70%+ of its land in goverment hands, only about 20%. ‘Forever wild’ might not be so popular if the government were every farmer’s landlord. There have been attempts to amend the state constitution to eliminate ‘forever wild.’ They have all been roundly defeated. There was also an attempt by the Federal government to create an ‘Adirondack National Park’ in 1967. The attempt was wildly unpopular and went nowhere, but prompted an agonizing reappraisal of the governance of the region and the creation of a State Land Master Plan that made great changes in… Read more »