Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
They say, “change is good”, but I am not so sure. We have been enjoying the National Parks and Forests our whole life. We now see so much poor management, price gouging and over-use, and we feel the parks are being severely depreciated. Slowly the parks are being whittled away and divvied up to the highest bidder in the public sector.
We just tried to have breakfast at a concession-run cafe in Death Valley. The two women that ran the place were Thelma and Louise and seemed like they were ready to drive off a cliff at any moment. We wanted to order a basic breakfast but they were out of bacon. By the time we figured out what little they had left and decided to leave, we were already seven dollars into two cups of coffee. Then we could not get Thelma or Louise to bring us a bill, so we eventually went to the cash register to pay. At that point both women showed up to inform us we had to wait at our table for the bill. We dropped a five and two ones and walked out.
I am not writing this to complain about this breakfast experience. I am using it as a reference to the direction federal land management has taken. Thelma and Louise are just cogs in the concessioner wheel.
We see a pattern of park campgrounds being taken over by private companies who then start doubling fees, charging for amenities that were once included, and delivering poor service.
Isn’t this just another tax on top of the taxes we already pay to have the government run our Park System? Am I the only curmudgeon traveling around grousing about this degradation?
Should I just jump in the backseat with Thelma and Louise and go joy riding?
--Fuming in Furnace Creek
I wish I could help you by waving a magic wand and solving the world’s problems, but that is not going to happen. Your cure is to deal with today’s challenges.
Thelma and Louise are small potato problems. (Were they out of hash-browns too?)
I have always said, “It’s simple math - multiply numbers, divide resources.” We now have 7 billion people on the planet and will move quickly to 8-9 during this next generation. That’s a lot of people to manage.
That’s the big picture. Narrowing it down to your observations, I agree with everything you say. I have been camping in our parks and forests since the fifties. Management has evolved in lock-step with society. It has gone from Ozzie and Harriet to The Simpsons.
The reasons for doling out management to concessioners, good or bad, is one of economics. Using part-time seasonal, volunteers and concessioners, these agencies cut their legacy costs and benefits, and along with that some erosion of dedication in a flux of public and private employees flowing in and out of the management of our National Treasures.
This all puts our resources in jeopardy. I just spent a few days hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Nevada through the Granite Chief Wilderness. I was almost run over twice by mountain bikers who are banned from riding in Wilderness Areas. This was during hunting season, which should indicate a need for more management in the area, but I never saw a ranger. Obviously, the mountain bikers are also aware of this lack of supervision.
Multiply this attitude exponentially and you begin to see the problems we face in protecting precious resources.
Many people today want less government. As it turns out we can’t afford government and government can’t afford us.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink