He cites the declining visits to the parks and that all visitors look the same – “generally white, fairly prosperous, sensible-shoe-wearing adults.”
He links this decline of interest in the parks to today’s youngsters – too overweight, too devoted to electronic media, and lacking an interest in nature and the outdoors.
It’s a good blog, and Egan makes many good points about the state of our parks and the need for “a new generation of stewardship.”
His solution is an interesting one – get first lady Michelle Obama to make the parks her next mission – sort of do for the national parks what she did for growing lettuce.
Egan says we need a “superstar” and a “style shaper” to help the parks, and he says Obama is just the right person. I like Michelle Obama very much. She is smart, and she is a superstar and a style shaper with real class.
However, Egan has missed the mark in diagnosing the problem with the parks and with his solution.
Island Free Press reader Dennis Gray of Dayton, Ohio, hit the nail on the head with his diagnosis of the problems with our national parks.
“Simply put, the parks are no longer for people,” he wrote in his response to Timothy Egan.
And I want to share his full response with you.
Here is what Gray wrote:
Timothy Egan's blog, "We Need Michelle Obama to Rescue National Parks," makes some good points about the declining visitation to our national parks and seashores. Unfortunately, he terribly misses the mark about the cause of and solution to this problem.
There certainly are concerns about today’s children and young adults not getting out and experiencing the great outdoors, but this is not the major problem with our parks. And neither is childhood obesity the fault of the national parks.
Perhaps the biggest problem in our parks system goes back to the '70s when the focus of park management went from visitors experience balanced with conservation to predominantly environmental/wildlife management.
This shift also brought in "top-down, one-size-fits-all" management of our parks with far more focus on the environment than the visitors.
Simply put, the parks are no longer for people.
When you ban rock climbing from Devils Tower National Monument, does visitation go up or down? When you ban snowmobiles from all parts of Yellowstone National Park, does visitation go up or down? When you close off miles of the best beaches in Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, does visitation go up or down?
How can you manage all these spaces with basically the same set of rules? Can you manage the Grand Canyon National Park with the same rules as Gettysburg Battlefield National Park? Or the cluster of urban buildings that make up Dayton Aviation National Park?
There was a time when superintendents had more autonomy in the management of each park that would allow it to better reflect the unique history, character, and natural settings of each, as well as the historic lifestyles of the people who live there.
Our parks are becoming museums, roped off expanses with "Don't touch" or "People stay out" signs all over them.
And people wonder why visitation is down?
This centralized bureaucratic management has also made the parks system more malleable to the whims of special interest groups through litigation. The desire of these groups is to make our national parks more like our national wildlife refuge system, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As this shift has been forced on the National Park Service, its managers have had to redirect their money and resources away from visiting guests to wildlife management. Accordingly the campgrounds, visitation centers, and other infrastructure have fallen into decay.
And they wonder why visitation is down?
If people can't get out and actually experience the great outdoors, how can they ever learn to appreciate it?
What's really interesting is that the original supporters of our parks system were hunters, fishermen, skiers, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts. They not only supported the parks as a way to conserve spaces for their activities as a concept decades before today’s environmentalists, but they have also supported the parks financially through their user fees, license fees, and surtaxes paid on the sporting equipment used in their endeavors. These recreational groups have long favored reasonable conservation, balanced with the needs of the visitors -- the sensible belief that there is plenty of space for all types of activities. Today these are the very people the environmentalists wish to ban as part of their own narrow-minded, preservationist views of the purpose of our park system.
These environmental groups -- such as Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, and the World Wildlife Federation -- contribute little if anything monetarily toward the operation of our parks, but will spend millions in legal fees to force the Park Service’s hand on management issues. Even worse, in many of these lawsuits, the Park Service has to reimburse these groups their legal fees, more money that could have gone toward the operation of our parks.
The idea that we need to get today’s kids more active in outdoor recreation is a good idea. However it would probably be better accomplished on a local level by supporting local Boy and Girl Scout troops, as well as other organizations that organize these types of activities. The real problem here is a parenting one.
The notion that the answer is as simple as getting the first lady to walk around in our parks in $600 tennis shoes is absurd. Sure it might be good to get the publicity and the sentiment is nice, but it would do nothing to fix the real problems that underlay the management and falling visitation of our parks system.
Egan offers this as a solution and parallels his idea with Michelle Obama's gardening initiative to get kids to eat more vegetables. Is there information indicating that kids are now gobbling down their vegetables? Of course not.