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Backpacker Magazine – November/December 2005

The Future Of National Parks

Everyone loves national parks--but are they being loved to death? Join representatives from the Park Service, Department of the Interior, Sierra Club, American Hiking Society, and more to explore the fate of this embattled American institution.

by: Peter Flax, BACKPACKER Executive Editor

Jerry Rogers The professionalism of the park-service employees needs to be respected. These people have spent a lifetime learning and qualifying themselves as professionals, be they law-enforcement rangers, interpreters, or biologists. And right now, two or three minds at the very top are doing all the thinking and suppressing any attempt at innovation or disagreement. So you've got two or three minds working in the wrong direction--and you've got 20,000 minds being suppressed. That's stupid.

Suzanne Lewis One of the greatest things that's going to happen is our 100th anniversary in 11 years. And the park service, in evaluating that centennial, should recognize that all those great accomplishments are underpinned by the men and women in the NPS. We didn't accomplish those things without the human factor. I would hope the centennial would be a big uplift.

Randall Kendrick One study found that in recent years, appropriations for the park service is up 55 percent while the number of commissioned park rangers is down 9 percent. It's nice to have procurement officers and a bunch of people in personnel, but look at what's happened in Petrified Forest, where the number of rangers has been cut in half. You couldn't walk the park 35 years ago without finding petrified wood every few feet. Now most of it has been taken away by souvenir hunters.

To make things worse, the Interior Department is trying to take away our enhanced retirement on a case-by-case basis. That's why so many people are heading to other agencies--so they can maintain their retirement. They usually get better pay and better appreciation from management for their efforts.

Mark Udall I have concerns about the professional staff long-term. I worry that in the rush to worship at the altar of privatization, we undermine a legacy of unique individuals and expertise and historical perspective.

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