Archives for : NPS

National Parks and Wilderness Preserves are Mandatory EPA Class I Areas

National parks and wilderness preserves are rarely, if ever, exempted from EPA Mandatory Class I Air Quality Standards.

The protective caveats in the draft proposal crafted by the local panel exist because two of its five members stood fast on the principle of keeping the Colorado Monument as it is. The proposal, in the words of Senator Udall, was “unprecedented.” But acceptance of the proposal by interests in the Grand Valley was contingent on those unprecedented conditions, which are:

  • No buffer zones
  • Governance by a local Advisory Board
  • Class II Airshed Standards

They are unprecedented because ALL OTHER COLORADO NATIONAL PARKS have been created with those conditions. Most national parks west of the Mississippi have Class I designation, with the exception of Death Valley NP which is remote and far removed from any human settlements. 57 of 60 NATIONAL PARKS have:

  • Buffer zones for present and future expansion and protection
  • Federal governance
  • Class I Airshed Standards

A great deal of backlash has resulted from those unprecedented conditions. If a national park bill is actually introduced, those conditions will be stripped because of intense lobbying by NGOs such as the National Parks Conservation Association, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Conservation Colorado and others.

The existence of a national park in Western Colorado means that Colorado energy interests and other developers will have to wage an ongoing war with the National Park Service, BLM, EPA and other agencies.  Self-appointed environmental watchdog groups, which focus like a laser on national parks, will set up in local storefronts and prepare to file injunctions and lawsuits at the drop of a hat. Local economies will be impacted and existing operations will be threatened. The answer to this future nightmare?

Just say NO to a new national park.

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Will National Park Status Limit Access for School Groups? Climbers?

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Although nearby Colorado national monuments-turned-national parks have struggled to attract visitors, other national parks such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite are mulling the imposition of quotas for peak visitation times. Despite the fact that access to campsites, lodging, guided tours and other national park features require special arrangements, sometimes years in advance, simply entering a park does not. But as seasonal overcrowding, overuse, and destruction at national parks becomes increasingly problematic, it is possible that reservations will be required for simply visiting for an hour or two.

Bob Janiskee wrote an article for National Parks Traveler in February 2008 detailing one scenario which might result as the National Park Services grapples with emerging usage issues. It says:

In the worst case scenario, the Park Service might have to adopt truly draconian measures. Some observers believe that it is only a matter of time before we see strict entrance and recreational facility quotas employed. A few have suggested that access to national parks and their recreational facilities might best be regulated by a national lottery, and that a “white market” for park permits should be allowed to flourish.

Here is how it would work. The Park Service would use the best available scientific methods to determine the recreational carrying capacity, acceptable limits of change, and other limiting factors in parks that experience serious overcrowding and related facilities overuse during peak seasons. The key question is how much access and use can be permitted without seriously reducing recreational quality or causing unacceptable damage to physical and cultural resources in the parks.

The agency would then set peak-period quotas for admission and recreational facilities use at the “problem parks.” Each quota would express the maximum number of permits to be issued for visiting a particular park and engaging in specified recreational activities during a specified period of time. The quotas would be partially filled through allocations to tour operators, park concessionaires, various other commercial recreation providers, and presumably some national NGOs. The remaining permits would be allocated to the public via lottery.

Peak traffic times at the Colorado National Monument have already maxed-out roads, parking turnouts, and campsites. As the NPS mulls “draconian measures” to manage burgeoning crowds within fragile natural environments, one cannot help but worry that even locals may someday have to wait to win the lotto in order to simply visit the treasure they see out their back windows everyday.

A school groups hikes a geologically interesting trail near Devil's Kitchen

A school groups hikes a geologically interesting trail near Devil’s Kitchen

With its current designation the Colorado National Monument is very accessible to school groups in the months from March to November. For small groups guided by parents and teachers no special arrangements are needed. For larger school groups doing educational, ranger-guided trips, they may do so with only a week or two advanced notice. Up to 100 students in a group can easily navigate most of the shorter trails in relative safety without the congestion, stress, and increased danger presented by tourists in large guided, or unguided groups.

MSCVD 51 "STEM" Summer School students enjoy a cliff side view

MSCVD 51 “STEM” Summer School students enjoy a cliff side view

Rappelling and climbing are also allowed within the CNM. Many hikers will use rappelling gear to drop into canyons during their excursions. Some groups simply like to focus on rappelling down cliff faces as a sole activity. Independence Rock, the literal heart of the CNM, is a destination for climbers. The traditional 4th of July planting of the American Flag at the top of Independence Rock goes back a hundred years.  Two years ago the NPS tried to ban climbing within Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and although some Western Senators were able to convince the NPS to postpone the ban, similar measures are being considered in other parks.

In 2013 the NPS created new “Wilderness Climbing Rules” that limit climbing and rappelling activities in many national parks, and could do so in what is now the Colorado National Monument. The new climbing rules would allow the NPS to remove existing bolts and ban the placing of new ones in certain areas. The Wilderness Climbing Rules also includes a “prior authorization” clause requiring climbers to “approach” park officers to place bolts, and even removable pitons. This means that climbers would have to apply to receive permission from the NPS–a possibly months or years-long process–to engage in the climbing and rappelling activities they so enjoy, and have done so for decades with few barriers.

Those pushing national park status for the Colorado National Monument seem to ignore the negative consequences that come with such a change; consequences that can be seen at other national parks throughout the country. Is losing access to our sustainable, relatively pristine local treasure worth the false “prestige” that comes with the title “National Park?”

Why Turn Sustainable Monument Into an Over-Burdened Park?

With these things in mind, it makes no sense to expose a sustainable national monument to the negative implications of being added to the long list of overburdened, over-traveled, poorly-managed, and increasingly degraded national parks.

Entrance to Kapalua National Conservation Area

Entrance to Kapalua National Conservation Area

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Colorado National Monument Advisory Committee convened in 2011-2012 to study the implications of a change of status to that of a national park. In their meeting minutes they noted several concerns, including:

  • “…are there enough parking lots, restrooms?”
  • “Is it possible that the Monument could be restricted to motor coach traffic only?”
  • “Would that eliminate use of the Monument by local individual vehicles and bicyclists?”
  • “…the current road system is beyond maxed-out…”
  • “…an increasing demand for law enforcement on the property…”
  • “…more traffic violations…”
  • “…suicide attempts also require law enforcement attention…”

And much more…The CNM Advisory Committee declined endorsing national park status for the above reasons as well a lack of community consensus on the issue. One thing is apparent. The Colorado National Monument, in its present state, is relatively well-managed and in good repair. A large percentage of its visitors are locals who have an interest in taking good care of the facilities within the CNM, protecting its natural features, and sustaining the delicate balance between human activity and the environment; those things which define its unique geographical location in a well-developed area.

In other words, the existing Colorado National Monument is a sustainable area. Though it could easily become degraded by an increase in foot and motor traffic, it is in good shape. Though NPS managers could easily become hostile to its human neighbors; the commercial and private interests of the Grand Valley, it is still mostly friendly. Though its environment could easily become irreversibly damaged, there are few areas currently that suffer from overuse and human mistreatment. National park status could tilt that delicate balance, harming the Monument and all it has to offer.

With these things in mind, it makes no sense to expose a sustainable national monument to the negative implications of being added to the long list of overburdened, over-traveled, poorly-managed, and increasingly degraded national parks.

A U.S. Senate report from October 2013 details the misuse, disrepair, mismanagement, and general degradation now facing the nationals national parks. Problems cited in the report include:

  • Deferred maintenance backlogs in the billions of dollars
  • Dilapidated infrastructure
  • 70 existing national parks that attract fewer than 100 daily visitors
  • reduced hours of operation
  • long wait times for entrance into national parks
  • expansion of NPS responsibilities without an increase in funding
  • wasteful staffing practices
  • delayed emergency responses in some parks
  • lack of transparency in NPS spending and budgeting process
  • Congress does not always follow the recommendations of National Park Service studies when authorizing new parks
  • Parks created for political reasons [Pork]
  • net loss in dollars per visitor–for example: It costs American taxpayers $221.30 for each visitor to the “Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site” (pg 148) Coburn Report

The list of dysfunctional aspects in the National Parks System is exhaustive. Please read the full report here:  There is also an environmental price to be paid with increased visitation. Read more here:  Proponents of national park status paint a benign picture saying, “it’s only a change of name,” or “the prestige of a national park is worth the effort.” The real implications, however, are not so benign. The existing CNM is a blessing to the people of Western Colorado, with few grievances or instances of poor management. The logical conclusion is to keep it as it is. Why fix it until it gets broken?

Implications of National Park Status Regarding Radio and Cell Towers

Proponents will try to assure you that no existing or future commercial interests will be affected by national park status. They will purport that national park status will never cause the CNM to become a Class I Area. But their assurances are based only on a present hope, and not the future reality that a number of existing laws could be employed by the National Park Service to inhibit, roll back, or stop development on or around what could be Rim Rock Canyons National Park. Remember, there are several large radio towers roosting above the Monument that might be found to “negatively impact the visual experience of visitors.” Ever heard of the National Park Service “Organic Act?” You will want to learn more once you read this excerpt from this analysis.

Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Viewshed Protections for the National Scenic Trails

A. National Park Service Organic Act

The NPS Organic Act was enacted in 1916 to “promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations.” In carrying out this goal, the NPS was instructed “[t]o promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks . . . by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks . . . which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The Organic Act singles out the national parks’ scenic resources as among those resources with such fundamental importance to the mission of the park system that they are worthy of protection by “such means and measures so as to keep them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Those scenic resources, such as mountain vistas, uninterrupted stretches of wilderness, and cascading waterfalls, that are wholly contained within a park’s boundary are inarguably subject to the Park Service’s preservationist mandate.

More troubling, however, are those scenic resources whose focal point may be located just beyond the park’s formal boundary line. Since these scenic resources emanate from a source outside of the park’s environs, one may argue that under the Organic Act these resources are not subject to the Park Service’s protective authority. Other commentators, however, have suggested that aesthetic and visual resources located outside a park’s boundaries are subject to Park Service regulation. This perspective relies on the common understanding of the term “use” in section 1 of the Organic Act, allowing the NPS to regulate the use of the parks to promote the twin aims of preservation and enjoyment of the resources. If the “use” is located within the confines of the park, then it may be regulated. For uses such as hiking, nature study, and conservation of plants and wildlife, there is little doubt that these uses are subject to regulation because they all occur inside the park itself. Similarly, where a scenic view encompasses a far off vista which may not lie within the park’s formal boundaries, one may argue that the use is located within the park if the user is physically located in the park. The visual resource that the park visitor enjoys is a use occurring within the park’s confines. Therefore, under this interpretation of the Organic Act, the NPS would have the authority to regulate transboundary obstructions that have the potential of degrading a park visitor’s visual experience.

According to this interpretation, the NPS would have the legal authority to regulate the siting of wireless towers outside the trail’s property lines but within the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail. These towers create a visual intrusion on a fundamental resource value which the NPS is obligated to protect under the Organic Act. Even where the telecommunications towers are located outside the boundaries of the protected trail corridor, their very size and composition tend to dominate the landscape and seize the attention of the trail user, and so the effect of placing a telecommunications structure next to the trail can completely destroy a central reason for the trail’s existence.

Although this particular document addresses the Appalachian Trail, the regulations cited potentially affect all NPS-managed areas throughout the country. The Colorado National Monument is nestled in the midst of development. There are radio transmission towers at the top, cell towers in various places around it, water towers, and myriad other structures visible from great distances. And future development of alternative energy resources, such as towering wind farms and solar arrays could be banned altogether. This is yet more evidence that the push to make a functioning and relatively well-balanced local treasure into a problematic national park simply makes no sense.

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