The National Parks are in the news quite a bit these days. There’s talk about how President Trump could make some changes as to how the parks are run. There’s talk about the ways in which pollution and climate change are negatively impacting the parks. There is also a lot of criticism out there about what is wrong with the National Park system these days. So, I thought I would make my own list of what is wrong with America’s National Parks.
- There are too many people and too many cars. The amount of visitation many National Parks are receiving is causing a lot of problems. There are simply too many people coming to many of the parks. 2016 set the record for visitation to the National Parks and that was the third consecutive year the record was broken. As a result, there are tons of traffic and congestion within many of the parks. It can be very difficult to find a parking spot in popular areas within the parks and nearly impossible to find available lodging. Traffic jams used to be the result of wildlife sightings, now many of the parks are experiencing traffic jams on a daily basis for the simple reason that there are just too many cars. The cycle continues in many ways. More people bring more cars, which brings more pollution and longer waits to see the sights within the parks.
- The parks get too much love. This is a direct result of my first point. If the parks are receiving between 5% and 10% more visitation than normal you can expect that will translate to a corresponding increase in the impact the park feels. The roads, lodges, campgrounds, restrooms, trails, everything will feel the impact. And that’s assuming people are following the park rules. Realistically though, if there are more visitors there is also a more likely chance that there will be more “bad apples” in the group that might deface National Park property or damage park resources.
- Too much garbage. Again, more visitors cause more problems. New solutions need to be thought of and implemented. Some National Parks now have facilities to try to reduce or eliminate waste altogether from leaving the park, but it is still probably going to be a while before all parks will manage to greatly reduce what they send to landfills when the amount of visitors continues to grow.
- There are not enough employees. It is well known that most, if not all, National Parks are grossly understaffed. That is largely a result of the fact that there is a huge backlog. Many parks have a lot of maintenance that is well overdue and plenty of projects that need to be taken care of, but the money and employees simply aren’t available. That can directly impact a visitor’s enjoyment of a park. The lack of park rangers and workers can mean there are fewer workers to help in search and rescue missions, less people to clean campgrounds, repair trails, or simply have more gates open at the park entrance.
- There are other issues as well, but they are not as big of problems as the first four as far as I am concerned. I think the parks seem louder these days. That is largely another product of the increased visitation. It also seems like road construction is a constant nuisance in the summertime, but it is typically a necessary evil. Another argument that could be made is that there is too much technology in the parks now. More and more cell towers are popping up and plenty of tourists can be seen on their phones. Selfie sticks are all over and they can grow pretty annoying (in my opinion anyway). I don’t want to hear people talking on their phones while hiking a trail or atop a mountain, but I can see how the NPS personnel may be trying to upgrade their accessibility, especially when it comes to social media in order to attract millennials.
That’s really just a few problems that I listed and they are pretty subjective issues for the most part. Each of those can also be fixed. They may require some clever thinking, group brainstorming sessions, and a whole lot of money, but they can be fixed.
So, what’s really wrong with the National Parks then? NOTHING. Again, a subjective answer for you, but it’s true. The National Parks are awesome. They’re amazing. Sure they may be a bit crowded, dirty, and understaffed; but they are still incredible and inspiring. They need to be cared for, preserved, and protected. They are America’s Best Idea and perhaps the best thing our country has going for it these days.
Everyone should visit the National Parks. They will be better people for it. That’s not just my opinion, that’s a fact. Now go and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes in your backyard. Just please don’t go when I’m there, because I’m not crazy about the crowds.