The Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed a record number of visitors in 2017, according to park officials. 11,338,894 people visited the park in 2017, a 0.2% increase over 2016.
The Blue Ridge Parkway had more than 16 million visits last year. Not surprisingly, these parks require maintenance and the maintenance backlog is dreadful. But a bill introduced in Congress last year would create a continuous funding stream for national parks. Like when you put away money to fix the roof or paint the house in the future, this fund would provide money for fixing our parks. Here’s the bill.
Still, as quoted in the Smoky Mountain News, my representative, U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows, says that “he doesn’t anticipate this particular bill seeing any serious consideration in Congress”. If our own congressional representative isn’t going to push for an issue which is of such economic importance to Western North Carolina, who is?
I’m off on a trip to two of the most out-of-the way places on earth. So this is my last blog for a while.
Our U.S. Government has shut down, as of midnight last night. So, today, on a weekend, I was curious to see what it meant for our local national parks. I drove down to Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, ready to walk all five miles of trail. I chose this site because it’s the easiest to close of the park units close to me.
Carl Sandburg home site is only open from 9 am to 5 pm normally. Unlike larger parks, there’s a gate which can be closed, but it wasn’t. I can only assume that the rangers didn’t close it last night, in preparation for today. Most visitors use it as their local park to walk, talk and exercise their dogs.
When I got to the Flat Rock, NC site, I was amazed to see that almost all the parking spaces were taken. As soon as I left the parking site and got on the paved trail to the house, I saw this yellow sign:
The sign tells visitors that there are no NPS staff members and they’re on their own. In my wanderings, I saw four of these signs.
The bathrooms were closed, as advertised. So was the bookstore. The house is being renovated, so was going to be closed anyway.
I walked to the top of Big Glassy Mountain on an icy trail. I guess if someone slipped and couldn’t walk out, they would have to alert the county EMTs. At the top, I only saw one group of walkers. The trail is short but steep. See the picture on top.
What about the goats?
I knew that they were being taken care of and fed. A car was parked at the goat barn, which I assumed belonged to a volunteer.
The sign on the gate said “Come on in” but the gate was locked tightly. Too bad since several children congregated at the fence.
You can’t see the goats but they’re in front of the barn, hugging the wall. Usually you can go in and pet them.
My last trail took me around the lake.
It’s the easiest trail and therefore had the most people. Eavesdropping on conversations from groups walking the trail, I couldn’t discern any bitterness about the shut-down.
Other than the closed restrooms, the shutdown probably didn’t affect most visitors to the Carl Sandburg house. But the National Park Service doesn’t just protect and preserve; it interprets as well, so that you know why this site is important. And that’s what was missing today.
As I headed for my car, Rob Moore, a reporter at the Hendersonville Times-News, came to see the situation. I told him about the four yellow signs, thereby saving him a walk through the park.
Elections have consequences. The government shutdown is one of them.
Today, one day from another government shut down and therefore national park shutdown, I read this from USA Today.
Nine of the 12 members of the National Park Service advisory board resigned in protest this week, saying Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ignored pleas for a meeting and has “set aside” protection of the nation’s natural treasures.
Board chairman Tony Knowles, a Democrat and former governor of Alaska, said in a resignation letter to Zinke that the group has been waiting for a year to meet and “continue the partnership” between the board and Interior officials.
“Our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” the letter says. “I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside.”
The board’s tasks included advising Zinke and the National Park Service on the designation of national historic and natural landmarks. The board also provides input on a wide range of issues from climate change to the administration of the Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act.
Who are these people? Here’s the link. It’s gratifying to see that most of them are women.
Knowles told The Washington Post that the board, despite being required to meet twice a year, has not convened since President Trump took office. Knowles said members understood that the Trump administration would name its own board members. Still, he said the resignees were not consulted on recent decisions to increase visitor fees and to reverse a ban on plastic water bottles in the park system.
Water bottles? Now there’s a sound environmental idea reversed by Sec. Zinke.
As for the government shutdown, I now read that national parks will stay open. There just won’t be any park personnel, just concessions. See the Washington Post.