"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."
> Quickly after the park was established, Whittlesly describes white superintendents trying to make the area “safe” by removing “primitive savages” from the park, claiming they didn’t live there to begin with as they were afraid of the geysers. Those claims were completely untrue; in fact, the Yosemite Indians — as well as Sheep-eaters and Mountain Shoshone tribes — lived on and revered the land, and many others also considered the geysers to be sacred. Tribes such as the Crow, the Blackfeet, the Flatheads and the Kiowa would travel through the land as well at other points of the year, for hunting or in search of obsidian for arrowheads.
> Making the land safe wasn’t the least of the problems for the Native American tribes. In a “park” now protected and preserved from “the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit,” how were the tribes to eat, sleep, hunt, gather food, light fires? They weren’t. Forced off the land now considered a natural preserve by the government, Indians were once again removed from their ancestral home.
So sure, we could say national parks are "absolutely american"..
Curiously, the provincial govt tried to introduce an access fee a few years ago, and there was a huge pushback from the citizenry.
It's also a great book in general.
I've been traveling to parts of Death Valley (which were former BLM land) for over two decades and know people who have been going to the same areas for four or five decades. The Park Service is not "the best of the US". Instead, at the local level, it is people with an agenda attempting to make a mark/name for themselves. One particular former BLM area has palm trees which the park service wants to remove. Yet, the park itself has more of the same around where they expect tourists to spend money. Hypocracy.
The same National Park System, PG&E and it's subcontractors are surveying and noting places where trees need trimming -- in particular around the park beetle. Said contractors and PG&E itself pointed out to NPS the vast groves of dead pines in the park itself and offered to help thin things. NPS declined due to "wanting to preserve the beauty" of which is large swaths of dead trees.
Edward Abbey was right in being suspicious of how humans would preserve and maintain our parks.
The idea of these protected areas serving the public good by, among other things, remaining accessible to the general public, is also integral to the definition of the term (and this article and new policy show this rather well). Such a policy may not have occurred to anyone establishing a nature reserve in Europe at the time, where classes would remain a fundamental category of society until the end of WW2.
There are a lot of people that live in Europe, it's not that there was so much wilderness and now it's all paved over. Australia and Canada have huge areas of wilderness because it's partially uninhabitable. Not many places have that.
Don't get me wrong, there are many beautiful places in Europe. I've had the pleasure of doing several long distance walks in the Alps, the Pyrenees and in Corsica. But it's not wilderness.
Even uninhabitable places need protection from resource extraction if they are to remain wilderness. This is how Canada lost most of its coastal rainforest. Not because there are cities there now, but because it was all cut down and sold to make shingles and 2x4s.
Are they all that busy?
Parks constitute a tiny percentage of public open land. And for the ones I’ve visited really have been built around special places (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Larsen, etc) and why not? If it’s someone’s only exposure to nature why not make it the best. And I won’t have to see them when I’m in the desolation wilderness.
The Yosemite valley in summer for example can feel like Disney in terms of crowds, but that is just a small area of the park’s land. The entire eastern part of the park is far less busy even along the roads, there are plenty of remote trails for backpacking, and then there are true wild spaces without any official development.
The national parks offer a range of natural experiences that can suit almost everyone.
The big splotch in California is Death Valley. To the immediate west is Yosemite; southeast is Mojave; to the south is Joshua Tree. These are big areas: Death Valley is about the size of the 9-county Bay Area with 7.68M people, while Mojave is about the size of the Los Angeles Basin with 15.7M people. Nevertheless, they're tiny compared to BLM-managed lands, which basically includes the whole state of Nevada.
Does anyone know why federal land is so concentrated to the western half of the US? Is the “empty land” in states like Texas state owned? Why?
You'll see the importance of private land ownership to the residents even today. When the Texas Central Railroad tried to acquire land for a bullet train a few years ago, their attempted use of eminent domain fell more than flat.
Most museums in the UK are free to visit too. They generally have donation boxes which is a great way to let those who can afford to do so support the museum. And those who can't are not excluded.
We aren't really talking about the same thing here. Many National Parks are massive properties with extensive ecological concerns and staff overhead. But they aren't even close to the sole extent of publicly owned land, that's where the BLM comes in. And there are the national grasslands and the forest service lands as well. We haven't even touched on state owned public lands or conservancy lands.
The Bill Bryson book on the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods) gives a very different impression. It seemed to him to be underfunded and pretty badly managed with individuals trying very hard despite limited funds and support. Alarmingly there was even logging being done. I have never been to any of them.
Oh. I hate that. I hate things being fake.
In the UK there is Dartmoor which is wild, but obviously no wolves or bears etc. which might be what you mean.
Ones near urban areas are usually busy. I’ve lived close to one and there’s usually a line on the weekend in the middle of the day to enter the park. It gets especially worse during holidays or when school is out during the summer.
So I always make it a point to go during weekdays when school is in session.
ADDED: And to be clear, I'm also strongly opposed to raising prices as a way to use market forces to depress use.
Side note: at a lookout at the very top of the Rocky Mountains, I was alone and staring out between two peaks when a ranger came up and started chatting with me and answered a few questions. After several minutes of that, I thanked her and she mentioned she was actually a volunteer. She and her husband did this work for fun for a month or so but, far more interesting, it turns out she lives less than a mile from my house back home!
By the way, if you are 60+, the parks are free but you must apply for a Parks Service card at any park entrance. The regular price, if I recall, is still only $10 or so.
I'm more concerned that many state parks charge up to $15/day usage fee. A fee just to enter and hike or play around a lake. I think that's very wrong. Simple fun in the outdoors ought to cheap recreation option - the cost to get there and whatever food you want to bring. It is gross that we fund these great places through taxes, then only those you can easily pay again can use them.
It would have made the parks a lot more sustainable in terms of revenue and increase the quality while making it cheaper for anyone who went more than once or twice a year.
I don't know why Americans put up with that silly government shutdown nonsense. In most countries that never happens. I think the solution is really simple – all a President has to do is call Congress' bluff and order the government to stay open, and to apply the previous budget on a pro rata basis.
"But that's illegal!", people say. Well, it would violate the Antideficiency Act. But, the Antideficiency Act is rather toothless. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for violating it, and the President can always use prosecutorial discretion and the power of pardon to prevent any such prosecutions. Would the Supreme Court order the government to close? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't, the Supreme Court is very unpredictable. But, assuming it doesn't, Congress can either accept it, or impeach and remove the President. Given removal of a President requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, it probably wouldn't happen.
More to the point, it would violate an express prohibition in Art. I, Sec. 9 of the Constitution: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law”.
> Would the Supreme Court order the government to close?
Yes, the Supreme Court would very likely order the executive branch to stop expending non-appropriaed funds.
> But, assuming it doesn't, Congress can either accept it, or impeach and remove the President. Given removal of a President requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, it probably wouldn't happen.
Maybe not right now, where Congress is dominated so much by partisanship over protection of institutional traditional, legal, and Constitutional power that you can imagine the President's party backing such a blatantly unconstitutional usurpation of Congressional authority. But that's sort of aberrant historically; most of the time, even the President’s party is keen to keep the executive out of legislative branch’s clear Constitutionally-reserved powers.
Well, you are right, I wasn't really thinking about the appropriations clause in my previous post. Although, a President could argue that Congress is violating (at least the spirit of) the Constitution by refusing to present an appropriations bill for signature, and that the President's action is forced by Congress' own dereliction of its constitutional duty. Furthermore, the President could argue that by applying pro rata last year's appropriation acts, the President is still appropriating "by law", just using a previous law faced with Congress' failure to pass a new one. If the President can present an interpretation of that clause by which keeping the government open is constitutional, then the President can insist they are not violating the Constitution, unless and until the Supreme Court says that the President's interpretation is wrong.
> Yes, the Supreme Court would very likely order the executive branch to stop expending non-appropriaed funds.
But how often have the Courts enforced the appropriations clause in the past? There seems to be very little case law. The Executive has violated it in the past (e.g. the Reagan administration violating the Boland Amendment) and the Judicial branch has tried its best to duck the issue (Sanchez-Espinoza v Reagan).
If the Supreme Court wants to stay out of it, they have the tools to do so – standing, the political question doctrine, etc. Whether they choose to do so or not may ultimately turn out to be a political rather than legal decision. If the Court has a Republican-apppointed majority, and a Republican President is refusing to shut down the government, the Court might decide to stay out of the matter, while they might decide differently if the President were a Democrat.
(Although in theory the Supreme Court is apolitical, in practice they sometimes appear to be motivated by political concerns, see e.g. Bush v. Gore, and also Roberts and the Affordable Care Act.)
Edit: also, the power of the purse is a matter of constitutional law, not the antideficiency act. The supreme court would absolutely order the government to close. No Federal employee would follow executive orders to violate congressional authority.
Many Americans believe that government is useless at best, malicious at worst, and grossly incompetent either way, and that shutting it down would probably do more good than harm.
That's because the U.S.A. has three parties that have to agree to a bill.
I started working on a well, but for water I mostly filled up my tanks at the Joshua Tree visitors center once a week (the water is free for the public).
For power, I used a generator and a battery bank. I purchased some solar panels, but I decided not to put them in until I build a real cabin.
For internet, I used cellular. Since there's a 100 foot outcropping on the property, I was able to get a great signal by setting that up on top of the hill.
>Out of the 418 units in the National Park Service (NPS), 115 parks charge an entrance fee.
The majority of national parks are free! However, the most famous ones -- Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Great Smoky, etc -- have an entrance fee.
The glitterati Parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Zion are overrun. It’s a difficult situation compounded by lack of budget for staff and upkeep.
The rest of the park though? Crossed the park via the Tioga Pass to reach Mammoth Lakes (which is outside of the park). There was very low traffic and a handful of people.
I feel that most people are concentrated in a few areas only, which should help. But the park is MASSIVE (takes almost 3h across by car). The entrance fee is a bargain considering how beautiful it is, and the sheer size of the area that has to be maintained and patrolled.
Only mention it here because the sheer Kantian sublime will keep the hordes out ;)
Also, while there is an entrance fee that applies per vehicle and gives you access for 7 days, there is also an NPS annual pass which costs about $100 and lets you enter every National Park and National Monument. So, you never have to pay more than approximately three Yosemite entrance fees in a single year, no matter how often you visit.
When I was a kid, we also had a "Golden Eagle" pass which combined the NPS annual pass with similar unlimited access to all California State Parks. I haven't seen that option in a long time though.
Surely a bidding system would lead to a better allocation of those (public) resources, finance the conservation and management costs and avoid the dreaded tragedy of commons...
Profit is just a nice side benefit which you can use any way you like: to build more parks, improve access to existing ones or simply subsidies access for the poor during less requested periods.
It's not egregiously unequal -- it's a fair admissions fee that everybody (visiting during peak season) has to pay.
I do not agree. I think there is a very wide divergence between what is of exchange value and what is socially valuable. Capitalism is a system with its own structural tendencies and deformations. It cannot reduced down to just so many bilateral exchanges in which both parties achieve utility-improvements.
"It's not egregiously unequal -- it's a fair admissions fee that everybody (visiting during peak season) has to pay."
It is unfair because: (i) it assume that people with less money have less claim to a natural part of the earth that is held in common; (ii) most - maybe all - of the reason that some people have more money than others is, (a) because they were born with genes with a set of highly determinate propensities, with a determinate family and social configuration, that made them who they are (i.e. it's not within their control, and so they can hardly claim credit for it), (b) they exhibit various vices, like greed, covetousness, ruthlessness, etc., and so spend more time doing worse things to make money (of course, this is a little polemical, and I only mean for it to apply to a certain class of people who are particularly zealous and proud of money-making).
Making people pay money, likewise, is unfair in that sense. But I'm not sure it's a different kind of unfairness.
And often people have money because of positive virtues: diligence, hard work, not buying things you can't afford.
Among most people visiting a national park and paying an increased peak-hours fee, my bet is there is only a small lean towards such virtues.
A lottery has the merit, at least, of being procedurally fair, i.e. all those who enter have an equal chance of being chosen on non-arbitrary (random) grounds.
I don't see a good reason why having less money should invalidate your claim to a national park held in common among all citizens.
Consider the political equivalent: a system of sortition that elects citizens by lottery; and a system of oligarchy that elects citizens according to who is able and willing to pay.
It is a question about what kind of society and public life you want to encourage: greed, productivism and hierarchy; or inclusiveness, community and equality.
A reason, besides fairness, is for one of the merits of charging a fee: so that people who value the experience the most are the ones that go. (In the case of campground reservations, one reason for having fees at all is to make people show up.)
You could focus more closely on this metric by making the fee be paid in the form of an increase to your adjusted gross income. But the poor already underpay taxes -- fairer would be for the wealthy to get into parks for free, as thanks for paying for the infrastructure that everybody else uses.
You clearly believe that it follows from the fact of being wealthy that you have a greater claim on collective resources, either because you manifest greater virtue than the poor, or because you have simply done more good.
I don't believe that people with wealth deserve that wealth in any deep sense - because people are who they are due to external forces, genetic and social.
I also don't believe that greed, acquistiveness, etc., are social virtues.
Most importantly, I don't think society should be founded upon productivism (accumulating as much wealth as possible) and hierarchy (the wealthy are better and have more claims on social goods than the poor).
Capitalism is based on demeaning and toxic hierarchies and inequalities, where everyone works nearly all of the time (except for those who don't work at all) in order to create masses of unnecessary commodities, that are slowly destroying the planet.
I cannot credit the view that wealth per se is good, or that we should bow before those who are lucky and oblivious enough to stand at the top of this scheme of things.
Why not have the same benefits for the national parks? Some are in desperate need of work and financing.
If you were to actually get your wish, you would arrive at a pretty accurate remake of Europe around the 18th or 19th century. Only with money being passed down from generation to generation, not land of title of nobility.
Many of those who didn't quite appreciate the genius and efficiency of this God-given system left Europe in those times to seek their luck in...America!
That wouldn't quite work today, what with no more continents available for settlers, not even those willing to ignore a few existing people already living there.
Which brings us to the second great idea some European at that time had, the guillotine...
0: Not saying that national parks alone would do this. There are actually far more resources that people like you thankfully don't even recognize as escapees from capitalism, to varying degrees. Among those are police protection, basic education, the right to use even crowded sidewalks, clean air and water, etc.
Just a reminder - you are talking about access to a freaking park, and not to a gold mine.
And yet several other countries have free access to national parks, museums etc.
Of course nothing is free. But the question of who pays, when it comes to public lands and public property, is a question of public policy. If the citizens decide that it is important to keep those things available to all, then it is certainly doable. Even in US we have quite a few things like that (e.g. beaches in most states). There's no reason why it can't apply to the parks.
Certainly not a politically popular opinion though, you are very right on that one...
Such systems would point out things people find valuable and encourage entrepreneurs and markets to create and offer alternatives.
I am still interested in hearing why this is such a bad idea (other than not being a very popular one, of course).
I am resigned to the fact that I won't reach Mt Whitney's summit during summer again in my lifetime...
Because it effectively prevents parts of the public from being able access a public resource.
If that isn't enough, think about what happens to the public's opinion of National Parks if most people can't afford to use them. At best the public would likely vote to reverse the new fee structure, at worst you create a public that outright opposes conversation of public land and parks are slowly dismantled.
But I'll concede your second argument because it's politics. Not the first time politics or religion win over rationality either...
Use them. Stakeholder usage determines regulation.
Yes, NP’s are ludicrously crowded, sometimes; but not actually always.
The fed land system is something the US has mainly done right, IMHO. Could improve? Of course. But, having spent solid time in another three dozen countries, what we have is pretty, pretty OK.
Support your local wilds.
NHAs are not national park units. Rather, NPS partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to NHA entities. NPS does not assume ownership of land inside heritage areas or impose land use controls.
It's be interesting to look at visitor data for parks that went from free to paid (if they even collected such data years ago) and see if charging for parks and the business around them has actually made them more crowded.
Personally, I don't think there should be a fee for entering a National Park. It should be paid for by our taxes. Just skim off a tiny bit from those billions used for defence and parks could be fully funded for years.
I'm not sure how getting rid of the fee would decrease crowds. The fee system is one of the best incentives to keep the parks in their natural state, rather than, say, building luxury condos and golf courses on top of them. If that's the alternative I'm happy paying the park entrance fee.
Unless those fees are invested into things that draw in more people. "Improvements" like new roads, better amenities and advertising means more people. US parks are great, but many of them have moved away from wilderness. They are too easy to access. They have too many roads. They would do better without the money.
No they wouldn't. What about park rangers? What about forest fires? What about keeping wildlife and humans safe from one another?
Go to a few Canadian parks. See what wilderness actually looks like. There is no ranger or fence between you and the bears. Rangers are there to protect nature from humans, not make wild areas more accessible for tourists.
A Parks Canada Discovery pass costs $67 CDN and is equivalent to the $80 USD America the Beautiful pass in the states.
Many parts of Banff, Jasper, and Garibaldi National Parks are quite manicured, with plenty of fences and visitor trails.
There are 30 million people in California. There are 30 million people in Canada. If all of Canada's people lived in Alberta then visiting the core of Banff would be like visiting the core of Yosemite. Very, very crowded.
The purpose of encouraging people to visit national parks via advertising is to get people to connect with nature and want to preserve it. There's tons of unpopulated parkland in the US but the very touristy areas are busy because that's the design. Concentrate visitors here, let them see some mountains safely, don't disturb too many animals by letting people just roam around in ATVs.
On the one hand national parks are usually national parks for a reason. They're often at least somewhat unique compared to other areas. It's also often possible to avoid the worst of the crowds.
That said, in a lot of the country there are often wilderness areas/national forests nearby national parks that have a lot of the same natural beauty with a fraction of the people. They may not have the singular attraction(s) that define the national park but they still have a lot going for them.
As to daytrips, and as mentioned above, try out non-NP wilderness areas. Since this is HN, consider emmigrant wilderness rather than yosemite—as example.
My wife commented that, although the Yosemite visitor center is beautiful, it feels almost like a tourist trap considering how beautiful and devoid of people the rest of the park is.
(I was about 20 miles from a road in the biggest snow year since the 80s, but still.)
Charging more to cap visitors shouldn't even be on the table.
Those are the options you have to pick. Given those are the options, number 1 seems pretty darn appealing.
Ouch. The rich have enough playgrounds already.
2. Lottery or capped reservations.
Zion is just nuts at the moment. It's awesome to see everyone out and about enjoying nature but the amount of people are just overwhelming to the senses. (The park itself seems to be holding up fairly well)
5. Carefully exploit the resources for a few more trails and opportunities.
6. Foreign tourists could be charged a greater amount.
I visited Gatineau Park (just north of Ottawa) this way. I think the bus was free. It also meant we didn't need to plan a round-trip hike.
In the peak season there can be a multi hour wait and the nearby town is also constrained by the canyon and there is no more places to put in parking lots.
I don't really think there is an option besides limiting daily visitors.
These are National Parks, not state parks. Locals don't pay for them, we all do.
For example, the British Museum is free, but the donation box when leaving points out that its paid for by taxes. I've seen international tourists making significant donations (e.g. £30+ for a family) recognising what visiting a similar museum would cost in their own country. But I like that a student from a low-income country can still visit the museum, and I'm happy for taxes to cover the cost.
The cost of the ferry ticket is not an entrance fee—there is no charge to visit the grounds of Alcatraz Island.
... All private vessels are prohibited from docking on the island.
I guess you could swim.
> Siskiwit Lake is the largest lake on the island. ... Siskiwit Lake contains several islands, including Ryan Island, the largest, which contains Moose Flats, a seasonal pond, which contains Moose Boulder. When Moose Flats is a pond, Moose Boulder becomes the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake in the world.
*sadly, not actually staring Dwayne Johnson
There is no single tribe that has carefully tended the land for thousands of years. Additionally, since they lacked a meaningful method of keeping knowledge beyond word of mouth, any non-common technique would have to be rediscovered every 100 years. They weren't carefully tending to the land, they were just struggling to get by with their crap agricultural skills.
Nearly everything you said is just plain wrong.
> no single tribe that has carefully tended the land for thousands of years
Yes you are right, there were MULTIPLE soveriegn tribes that did that. And yes they did tend the land for thousands of years. Look up Tending the wild by Kat Anderson.
> since they lacked a meaningful method of keeping knowledge beyond word of mouth, any non-common technique would have to be rediscovered every 100 years
Huh? So I guess there was not a chance that one of those millions of native Americans still living on reservation lands in the 1900s passed down any knowledge of how they lived. Interesting assumption there chap.
>crap agricultural skills
"Crap agricultural skills"? Good lord. Americans are the ones with "crap agricultural skills." It's not normal for soil to be unusable for half a decade after farming FYI. Ever heard of soil erosion? Look up Three Sisters, https://milkweed.org/book/braiding-sweetgrass, Karletta Chief's field work, Indigenous Environmental Perspectives:NAP.
No, there were none that have done that. There is no civilization that has lasted thousands of years, let alone some tribe.
>Interesting assumption there chap.
Not an assumption at all. Without writing, there was absolutely no useful way to preserve knowledge for any long period of time. Best you have are traditions and stories, which are lossy at best and easily wiped out by conflict.
>"Crap agricultural skills"? Good lord. Americans are the ones with "crap agricultural skills."
If it weren't for the agricultural technology and skills enabled by the scientific institutions of the "colonizers", we would still be having our children starving to death during droughts like the tribes and the early settlers. If it weren't for that technology, there wouldn't be enough farm land to feed all of the humans on the planet.
If it weren't for the "colonizers", tribes would still be murdering each other over territory during droughts, dying from simple diseases, suffering from malnutrition, living in terrible shelter, etc.
If tribes really were go great back then, none of the Native American reservations would be using any modern technology and people would be clamoring to join them and learn their ways.
Of course there were territorial disputes, just like there are today with other nations. But most of the difficulty between tribes arose as a result of white influence, starting with the Spanish and continuing onward.
This is just an assumption because there was no written history of tribes before the "white influence".
Usually these fees are for multiple days. For Yosemite: car fee is valid for a week(there are other deals if you want to stay for longer or visit multiple times an year). The wilderness permit... I don't really know. You do have to submit start and end dates for each trip, but the fee covers the duration.
Also Yosemite: it appears that foot traffic is charged too. https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fees.htm
That highly depends on the park.