SocraticGadfly: The decline and fall of the National Park Service

August 21, 2015

The decline and fall of the National Park Service

During my recent vacation, I made return visits to several national parks; in most cases, it was at least the third time to visit.

And, as we near the National Park Service Centennial celebration, especially, I found reasons to be disappointed.

Found out the NPS isn't always high on history. Juan Bautista de Anza was NOT in the San Luis Valley around Great Sand Dunes NP in 1769 ... but it says that on a trail sign there! He WAS in the area a decade later, after his expedition to California.

That said, the sign that mentioned 1769 also, as part of a "gathering of the peoples" for the San Luis Valley as a corridor, but, on his 1779-80 mission, he was moving through the valley to attack Comanches northwest of the area.

NPS has also gotten too tame. Last time I was in the Needles District of Canyonlands, a decade or so ago, there was still a big yellow sign that said, in essence: "Cell phones really don't work here, because this is already very remote and YOU'RE HIKING INSIDE CANYONS!" This year? Sign gone. Cell phone reception actually out at the trailhead, at least, of Elephant Hill. (Eyeroll.)

At least the NPS isn't the Forest Service or BLM, getting overrun by gun nuts, or the BuRec, whose lakes are overrun by drunken partiers. Small consolation.

As for that centennial celebration? Looks like a neoliberal, sponsor-heavy capitalist clusterfuck is likely, with a new logo for the centennial, plus a new logo for the park service (one that I loathe) so that we can have new branding, so that we can have new marketing, etc. (And, no, NPS, nothing tops your pictured original logo.)

Marketing that, per this blog post and signs you'll see in NPS units, includes big sponsors.

REI, I get. It's the nation's largest non-hunting/fishing outdoors store. (That said, the fact that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell used to be its CEO wouldn't have anything to do with it, rather than, say The North Face, being a sponsor now, would it?) Subaru I halfway get, since it makes a high percentage of crossover and SUV vehicles, and all of them are all-wheel drive.

Budweiser? Drunks, especially loutish ones, in NPS sites I definitely don't want.

American Express? Probably agrees with William Mulholland of Chinatown and L.A. water theft fame that we should dam all of Yosemite to make it more productive.

Humana? What? Is this an Obamacare tie-in to the NPS centennial?

And Disney? Partnering with an even more commercialized Ken Burns, or somebody beyond him, to do an official video of the centennial, even more sanitized than Ken Burns?

It's "interesting" that the Find Your Park website, a partnership between NPS and the National Parks Foundation, hides those sponsors.

That said, while budget cuts could have pushed the NPS and nonprofit affiliates to scrounge for sponsors, I think some of this has become internalized. I have no doubt, from what I've read the past few years, that the timidity of taming wilderness and semi-wilderness areas of western National Parks with cellphone towers is definitely driven internally as much as externally.

And, in my idealized world, the Park Service would turn the damned lakes of the west, the National Recreation Areas, back to the Bureau of Reclamation, since they created them in the first place. Managing such obviously man-made sites is directly against the spirit of the Park Service's Organic Act, and I've said so before.

As for centennials, I didn't remember, or think, before I got there, that it is Rocky's centennial. And, fortunately, that park has done little commercialization of that.

There's other problems. Though Obama has started more of a push on climate change, as far as being a general "outdoorsy" president, he strikes me as the least outdoorsy one since Richard Nixon; Katy in a comment on this blog post definitely agrees. His "all of the above" energy strategy on BLM lands is questionable. Jewell's predecessor, Ken Salazar, was halfway in the pocket of energy companies and one-quarter of the way in the pocket, on BLM and Forest Service land, of cheap-grazing ranchers. And, Dear Leader himself has never really talked about his vision for the present or future of the Park Service, nor pushed to make a major appropriations increase part of the centennial celebration.

(Let's not forget that, as our first black president, he had a priceless opportunity to address the dismal use rate of national parks in particular, and nature recreation sites in general, by minorities, and blew it.)

Neoliberalism, indeed.

(And, speaking of the capitalism behind neoliberalism, Dear Leader let the NPS have its already small budget get whacked in 2012 and hasn't reversed that. More here on his fiscal sloth, combined with Western red states' Congresscritters' hypocrisy.)

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