I love the national parks. I have a goal to visit all of them. It is a goal I most likely will not achieve but I'll see as many as I can. There are 58 national parks but the entire National Park System includes 397 "units." I would like to see all 397. Here is the complete list:
I've been thinking about the parks because of the USA Today article "Parks less popular as hangouts." It tells us that visitors to the parks are spending less time in them. Specifically, fewer visitors are spending the night in the parks. Over the past two decades time spent in the parks has dropped 15%.
"One popular theory, park service analyst Butch Street says, ties to the park system's increasingly older visitor population. Baby Boomers are opting for local hotels, he says. 'They just don't camp out.'"
Well that is a theory and to some extent I'm sure true. However, I think the issue is bigger than that. First off, people don't take as long of vacations as they used to, as the article notes "...vacations themselves have changed." OK I'm fine with that. People are taking shorter vacations over all.
However, I think the real issue is that people don't even spend a day at a park. The article says people "...are choosing to cruise through Yosemite Valley to see a few main sites for a few hours before heading elsewhere." I spent three days at Yosemite, staying overnight at off-site lodging, and know that was about 30 days too short. You can't cruise through a national park, or any nature space, and really experience it. One needs to sit still and quite in the place and let yourself be part of it. Each bit of land has its own essence.
I know that people do quick drop-ins to the parks, check it off their list and move on.When I went to Grand Canyon National Park, I took a day tour van to get there but stayed at the Park, on-site lodging, and took the tour van back five days later. One person asked what there was to do for that long. I of course was thinking you really haven't seen the Canyon in your three hours here. One thing I did was watch the sunrise from a different location each morning. The last morning I was sitting waiting for the sunrise when a man came running up the path. He was out of breath and when he caught it, he said that seeing the Grand Canyon was a life-long dream (he was probably about 40 years old). Then he asked if I thought the fog was going to clear in time. I said that I didn't know but each sunrise is unique and the fog would change how it appeared. He said, "I'm only here for two hours so I hope it clears. It will be the only one I see." I didn't say it, but really? A life-long dream and you set aside two hours?
Aside from limited vacation time available to people, why do people spend so little time in the parks? I don't think the parks are unique in this. People are always surprised when I say I went to x place for a week. And it isn't just younger folks. It cuts across all age groups. Even retired people with time and money seem to take short trips. I think part of it is we've become so use to a sameness everywhere we go. As Eric Schlosser pointed out in Fast Food Nation travel down the road and everything repeats every few miles. Oh look another McDonalds, Burger King, Wal-Mart. While he is indeed correct, if you get off the strip mall highway,most towns and cities have something unique. But Americans have been taught to like the sameness and safety of the known. Give most a choice between a local unknown restaurant and a chain restaurant and the majority will go with the chain. In nature, each place is unique. It is obvious that Point Reyes National Seashore is not the same as the Grand Canyon. But, within each place, walk a bit, turn around, and you are in a different place. But most don't spend the time to experience this.
Well you might be thinking. Fine, you sit on your rock and contemplate the shadows in the meadow. Me I'm stopping by and then moving on. Sure live and let live. However, when we're talking the national parks it isn't about me or you. It is about them. If people don't understand what a treasure these preserved lands are, they are less likely to support them. The National Park Service budget is one-thirteenth of 1% of the federal budget. Nothing at all. But it is under attack and being cut. How long before someone decides private industry will do a better job of this and start selling off land? I believe that even if no human ever set foot in these parks again, having them preserved in their own right is of value. But I know if Americans stop visiting and don't see a value in these lands, they could be lost. I don't want that to happen.
"How narrow we selfish conceited creatures are in our sympathies! How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!" John Muir