National Parks ARE a GREAT idea!

July 10, 2009

Ken Burns, known well for his documentaries of American history such as the Civil War, jazz and baseball, has completed his latest series entitled ‘National Parks: America’s Best Idea.’  I recently found a video that shows about a 20 minute preview of the series; it looks to be quite informative with great shots and unique characters.  I’ve always enjoyed our national parks, ever since I was very young.  I remember my family owned a vhs on quite a few parks that I would watch over and over.

In 2005 I got a Passport to the parks, one of those booklets where you stamp a page every time you go to a park, and have really enjoyed it.  At that time I was working in northern Minnesota in the Boundary Waters and would take day trips to the north shore of Lake Superior visiting Isle Royale and Grand Portage.  Geology field camp took me to parks in Wyoming and Montana the next summer.  Since 2007 I’ve been in northern Arizona and visited many of the parks in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah.Yosemite Falls

I hope the series gets into ecotourism, as it is an almost hypocritical topic in the park service.  As more and more people visit these amazing places, it gets that much harder to preserve these lands.  Building roads, parking lots, and other infrastructure to help accommodate the masses hardly seems like preservation.  For instance, Grand Canyon NP has about 8 gates for park entrance at its south entrance, often backed up…especially on the weekends.  The first point you come to is often packed with no parking at all and cars lining the road.  It reminds me of Ed Abbey offering a solution of closing parks to cars and renting bikes for people to ride and enjoy themselves.  I believe if this were to happen though, the NPS would lose quite a bit of money…regardless of stimulus money (thanks to Lee A. for showing me these numbers in his blog).

The latest park I’ve visited was the infamous Yosemite National Park just last month.  The water was around peak flow and all the falls were roaring and misting much of the valley.  It was surprisingly not as crowded as I thought it would be.  This might be because of the multiple entrances and a large area of accessibility to cars in and around the park.  Either way, it reminds me of how John Muir would discuss sheep as locusts of the Sierras, but how are paved trails and roads, condos, permanent canvas tents (~$100 a night if your interested), etc any different?  That’s an exaggeration, but it is of concern.

Just to the south of Yosemite lies Sequoia National Park.  An interesting fact about this 2nd oldest park in the NPS is that many of the old roads have been completely removed, as well as other man-made structures in hopes of preserving these great, ancient forests.  I hope this new series will introduce many people to these great parks, help those that know of these parks understand the importance of preservation, and even affect those kids that watch videos of these places and dream of visiting them enough to pursue a lifetime of commitment for their longevity.