Are we killing our National Parks?
As The Ingalsbe Three ‘N Me buzz through the western United States, we’ve stopped in a lot of small towns, a few tourist towns, even a couple big cities.
We’ve met a lot of people.
It’s been said that everyone has a story to tell, but I’m not a firm believer of that. Some folks are just downright boring as celery.
On the other hand, there’s this guy we met while squatting in a quiet, beautiful forested campsite near Gardiner, Montana.
As I wandered around this primitive campground, I saw him repacking his small white van, one that I’d enjoy having on a road trip. It’s a bit bigger than our mini-van, gets better mileage and has no windows. A perfect tiny motor home for one or two. So I asked his opinion of the vehicle. It was an easy opening for a conversation.
He was from Boston, he said, and flew into Los Angeles to travel the west. All the better to miss the boring but fruitful plains of Indiana and Iowa and spend more time in the Rocky Mountains.
A good deal, we both agreed.
But he’s visited Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks already. He’s not a happy man. He had terrible experiences in the past couple weeks because of massive crowds, not at all what he remembered from his last visit just ten years ago.
The sun hadn’t gone down when we met, it was dark when we said “Later”.
He had mentioned the New York Times piece “Are We Loving Our National Parks to Death?”, which points out how tourism and foreign visitation in our beloved parks has skyrocketed. And with overpopulation, the chances of having a pure, clean and quiet visit has dropped like a rock off a Grand Canyon cliff.
The parks have gone to using shuttle buses to reduce vehicular traffic. Motor homes and cars they pull take up the skinny curves and rip up roads like shredded lettuce. The 307 million visits to the national parks, monuments and historic sites batter the buildings, walking trails and equipment.
But as we talked, we concluded that it is terribly unfair to reduce the numbers of visitors, to keep these magnificent places a tightly held secret. Every American ought to visit Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Acadia, the Smokey Mountains and the Everglades at least once in their life, if only to see what they’re missing.
It would a shame to ruin them all, but how can we resuscitate them without putting a limit on visitors?
Granted, in a large percentage of parks, hike 200 yards off the main highway and most visitors forget they are in an overcrowded and underfunded park infested with a few thousand of your closest strangers.
Maybe the best solution is to visit the bigger, more visited parks once and then hightail it to the less visited ones for a real, comfortable and less stressful experience.
The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado are North America’s highest at 750 feet. And here, you can write your name all day in the sand and no one will complain.
Capital Reef in Utah is Bryce and Zion National Parks’ under loved stepsister, but offers some great scenery and drives.
Olympic National Park in Washington state is loaded with diversity, including Pacific coast beaches, glaciers, mountains, and a rain forest.
But think outside the National Park system as well. There are tons of excellent state parks around, and even scenic wonders with no state or national connection.
Ah, but for now, The Ingalsbe Three ‘N Me will tour the star of them all Yellowstone, and breeze through the magnificent Tetons, speeding through Bryce and missing Zion, Cedar Breaks, Grand Canyon.
Maybe, just maybe, after seeing Yellowstone’s remarkable scenery and its gazillion visitors, all other parks aren’t worth seeing.
That’s ridiculous. But the solution to possibly snuffing out the magic of U.S. National Parks has baffled everyone, even the experts.
See them in all their brilliance while you still can.