NATIONAL PARKS CONTINUE TO GET HIGH MARKS

by Whit Gibbons


June 9, 2003


A South Carolina friend, Lee Dane, sent me the following comments in response to an earlier column. Anyone making a trek out West this summer should read them. They also give notice that much of the voting public places a high value on our national parks as natural resources, simply for visiting and viewing.

"Your column on the value of our national park system really resonated with me. Our daughter and I just got back from a driving trip to Seattle. We went by way of national monuments in New Mexico, including El Malpais with its volcanic remnants and ancient lava flows, and El Morro with its 200-foot-high sandstone rock rising out of the desert. In Arizona, the Petrified Forest National Park with its Painted Desert was spectacular in so many ways, and the Grand Canyon is always a breathtaking sight.

"From there we went on to California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park with its stunning vistas and natural areas, and to Redwood National and State Parks [this is a cooperative management effort between the National Park Service and California Department of Parks and Recreation, which protects almost half the old-growth redwood forest remaining in California]. The world's biggest trees will always be impressive, no matter how many you see or how many times you see them.

"In the broadest consideration of our national park system, the habitat preserved is so varied and so extraordinarily wonderful. We are lucky to have such a rich heritage--I despair of what some of our politicians want to do with so much of our `protected' open space! Even in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, the pressure on the habitats outside the parks and monuments is quite intense. El Malpais was a wonderful example of how a habitat can come back from overgrazing. I could even see the new bunchgrasses and flowering herbs and shrubs that have returned inside the boundary line.

"The staff of the parks we visited were invariably polite, knowledgeable, helpful, and eager to tell us about what was going on. I was interested to see how many volunteers they make use of now, as I gather park budgets had been trashed even before the present budget crunch. But we saw no evidence of run-down or underserved spaces--the park personnel did an extraordinary job. Some of the trails and buildings had been built by the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] and WPA [Works Progress Administration] during the Great Depression in the 1930s, and were still holding up well to the untutored eye.

"Not everywhere we visited was a national park site, and it was encouraging to see other preserved natural areas. Bear Creek Preserve in Redmond, Washington, was a haven for warblers and other birds and has the most bounteous salmon run still remaining in the area. We were not there during spawning season, but I gather that the little stream is literally choked with salmon when they come up. Think what it must have been like in the old days!

"Umtanum Canyon, also in Washington State, is coming back from extreme overgrazing. The wild flowers were fabulous; the birds pretty wonderful; and we also saw our only snake of the trip, a bright gopher snake that one of the other people we ended up hiking with screamed about as a rattler. It is so sad that so many people don't take the time to recognize the good guys!

"You have inspired us to check out `Rocky' [in Colorado] the next time we drive West. But the area around Sequoia is so spectacular that it will be a hard sell to move us from that one till it is fully explored."

Many people in the country hold Lee's sentiments that we should enjoy our natural environments for themselves and their natural beauty. No lifetime is long enough to explore all of the many natural wonders to be yielded by our national parks. Those of us who value our national park system need to let Congress know that we do not want these national treasures to suffer from either exploitation or neglect.



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