Reviews | Give people what they clearly need: more national parks


Rationing of access can only push visitors elsewhere. Arches National Park in Utah has closed its doors completely when things get particularly busy, stoking the frustration of tourists who arrive too late in the day to enter. Megan Lawson of Headwaters Economics points out that an excluded family from Arches will naturally scramble to find an alternative nearby. “They are going to use Google and find another destination,” she said, “so we have to anticipate these pressures on the surrounding public lands.”

The easiest way to ensure that the reserves that absorb these visitors are prepared for the influx is to identify the National Monuments closest to the Parks Service’s busiest sites and reclassify them, thereby offering travelers wanting to visit a national park another attractive option when they realize their initial destination is too busy.

How many of the six million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon could be enticed to visit the equally majestic Canyon de Chelly in Arizona if it were a national park rather than a national monument? How many of the hundreds of thousands of impatient hikers who make their way to Sion each month could instead try their luck on Cedar Breaks, especially since its crimson-striped cliffs and bristlecone forests are only an hour’s drive away in the Utah desert?

Of course, many Westerners will shudder at the idea of ​​gems under the radar like the craters of the moon and the Valles Caldera becoming the next Bryce Canyon or Badlands. Mr Jenkins, the superintendent of Grand Teton, says the Park Service has constant internal debates about the delicate task of reducing overcrowding at some sites without overwhelming others.

“Is it better,” he asked, “to have more people in hardened places, where we create and manage the capacity to be able to house them and accept the consequences of doing so? “

In some ways, this is a moot question, as many national parks have already reached their limits, leaving less developed public lands vulnerable. Because Grand Teton cannot accommodate everyone who wishes to spend the night there, rangers in the surrounding Bridger-Teton National Forest have made an effort to accommodate campers who wish to pitch tents there despite the area not having not a comparable amount of tourist infrastructure. .

National monuments therefore represent an interesting alternative between the two: already “hardened” sites that many outdoor enthusiasts have never heard of and which can still offer an experience just as memorable as a branded park. Neither New River Gorge in West Virginia nor White Sands in New Mexico received additional funding when they were redesignated as national parks, but officials at both sites say they had no trouble finding it. manage the tens of thousands of new visitors they saw this summer. .

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