Thursday, December 30, 2010

National Park Service

Backroads Information- National Park Service

Everybody has a rich uncle with money, nice digs, and just an air of superiority around him.  Among the Federal land management agencies that rich uncle is the National Park Service.

The National Park Service (NPS) was founded in 1916.  It had only a few National Parks at that time, but over the years has grown to 394 units of which 58 are designated National Parks.  The NPS has National Monuments, Historical and Battlefield sites, National Recreation Areas, as well as other designations like National Seashores and Parkways.  National Park Service Web Site

The NPS has over 84 million acres under its jurisdiction.  There are 22 thousand Park Service employees who spend almost 3 billion dollars a year managing the system.  Compared to the BLM or FS, the Park Service has much less land to manage but more visitors with visitation being over 270 million visits a year.   This compares with 173 million for the Forest Service.

The NPS is part of the National Recreation Fee program and they pocket admission and other revenues to the tune of 346 million dollars a year.

The NPS is run by a Director that is appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress.  There are seven regions each with a Regional Director who supervises all the Park Superintendents and other line managers in the NPS.  There are also Service Centers scattered throughout the country doing much of the design and planning work for the agency.

The Park Service is a VERY politically savy organization.  Probably the best among the Federal land management agencies.  They do not make very many mistakes or get into hot water politically.  They have an ardent group of supportors that funnel corporate and individual donations into the park system.  Seems like those rich uncles get all the breaks.

I did work for the Park Service in a planning position in the late 1970's.  I picked up film to document my study and got a stern lecture on mis-use of government film.  So I asked, "well how can you tell if I am mis-using the government film? "  The answer was if we see "pictures of people we assume it is an inappropriate use of film."  Since my study was a recreational carrying capacity determination for a large recreation area if I had pictures of flowers and mountains THAT was a misuse of film.

I came to see the Park Service is more focused on the Park than the visitors.  This is the reason for all the regulations.

The National Parks are expensive to visit.  Save your pennies.  There are admission fees, trail fees, camping fees, and even mountaineering fees.   The only way to minimize the fees is to get a Golden Eagle or an Inter-Agency Pass.  This gets you free admission to the Parks and a discount on camping fees outside their RV campgrounds.

The National Parks are famous for their rules and regulations.  In many ways the Park Service is the agency of NO.   The best mindset for visiting the National Parks is to think of them not as wildlands, but as a museum.   A very pretty and large natural history museum in most cases.  Walk carefully between the lines, speak softly, and do not use flash and you will be all right.

The National Park Service manages museum's known as historical sites, natural areas known as National Parks, and places called National Recreation Area's.  These are the best bets for boondocking and a more "normal" experience than you can find at the Parks.  Some, like Lake Meade even allow boondocking.  Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Bugaboo hates the National Parks.

He growls whenever we approach an entrance station.  There are no dogs allowed on trails.  And he must always be on a six foot lease.

Dispersed camping or boondocking is banned except for a few units in the Park system.  Most campgrounds are far too small for RV's, so if you have even a moderate length RV you will probably be staying outside the area.

Here is one of the few campgrounds that can accomodate larger RV's.  Katherines Landing at Lake Mohave within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Now that we are finally eligible for our Golden card we stop at all the National Park areas.  They are well worth the visit if you can afford them.  The good news is that most of them are surrounded by BLM or Forest Service lands and you can camp there and drive into the Parks on a daily basis.

One tip.  Check the admission stub when you visit the Park.  Many times they are good for seven days and sometimes for even more than one unit in the area.  You can save some money by reading the admission stub.

If you are new to the outdoors the Parks are wonderful places for you.  The rules and regulations will keep you from getting in trouble.  The Park Service is always there to make SURE you do the right thing.  Go to the interpretive walks and presentations and you will learn a lot about natural history.  At some point you will outgrow the hand holding, and be ready to explore the Forest Service and BLM lands.

Somebody once said that the National Park's were America's best idea.  Well, I would tend to put the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ahead of the Parks.  I would even put the Forest Service and BLM lands ahead of the Parks as an idea.  Ok, so we will make them America's best fourth IDEA.

Visit YOUR National Parks.  It might be only America's best fourth IDEA, but they are much more than just a pile of rocks!


Linda said...

Aha! Think of the National Parks as museums. They make so much more sense now. Thanks for helping me understand.

Vladimir Steblina said...

I can not read the tone of your comment, but National Parks drive me totally nuts with all the rules and regulations.

If you really want an adventure in rules and regulations get a back-country permit just so you can spend a week wandering around.

"What do you mean you don't know where you want to camp"?

So I make up answers. Most of the time I stay to Forest Service and BLM areas for that reason and of course, Bugaboo.

The Parks are cool places, just like museums.