November 22, 1992
James Ridenour, Director
National Park Service
Department of Interior
17th & C Streets
Washington, D.C 20240
Re: The "Human Playground" style of park management at Yosemite and the Grand Canyon
There is an unfortunate trend in our parks and other public (and private) lands to cater to us human beings and give low priority to the natural "resources" (mainly wildlife) that make the parks attractive. I call this the "human playground" theory of park management. I am writing to ask you to either eliminate the concessions altogether (leave an absolute minimum of human facilities, such as restrooms and drinking fountains), or choose the concessionaire that most closely adheres to that ideal (probably YRT Services, of San Francisco).
Although this may sound extreme, it is not. Wildlife cannot protect itself from us. Over the last several thousand years, man has been the cause of the decimation of wildlife and thousands of extinctions in North America. Although mankind has no trouble whatever claiming and dominating every square inch of the Earth, most people could not name a single area that belongs to wildlife and is off-limits to humans (can you?). Obviously, most wildlife cannot tolerate the presence of humans. The only way we can ensure the continued presence of wildlife on the Earth (and hence our own existence!) is to begin designating adequate wildlife sanctuaries and corridors that are off-limits to humans, and buffer zones around them where minimal human facilities (especially roads) prevent damage to the ecosystem.
If park-goers want urban-style, industrial-grade human amenities, let them find them in the city, where they belong. They are incompatible with the national parks. Just as suburbanites destroy the rural atmosphere that originally drew them to the suburbs, too-easy human access to wilderness denatures and destroys that wilderness.
On a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, I was told by a ranger that the word "preserve" has been deleted from your stated goal to "preserve and protect". If true, this represents an unbelievable level of hubris and ignorance. The presence of mules in the Canyon was justified by saying that "they have always been there", and that the concession brings in money. The mules destroy the trails (they create a narrow rut in the middle of the trail, which washes out each year with the first rain) and create a terrible stench over large sections of the those trails. They also create an awful racket at Phantom Ranch, destroying the peace of the canyon. No amount of money can compensate for this desecration of a national park.
The degree of development in the Grand Canyon National Park should be decreased, not increased. The South Rim should be redesigned for the convenience of visitors who arrive via bicycle or public transit. At present, it is only convenient if you have a car. Specifically, the AMTRAK buses should stop at a "transit hub" near the Backcountry Office, before going to the hotels. There must be lockers there for nondrivers to store their belongings. I arrived by AMTRAK bus, and had to travel one mile back and forth between the hotel (the only place I could safely store my belongings) and the Visitor's Center many times. There should be bicycles available for rent. The road construction should stop, and the use of motor vehicles within the Park should be prohibited or very restricted. Instead, shuttle buses should run all year, as in Yosemite. AMTRAK should stop in Williams, so that passe
ngers ngers can transfer to the Grand Canyon train.
Mankind has very little time left to learn how to safeguard the Earth's ecosystems. (In particular, we desperately need to replace the use of the automobile with public transit and other clean forms of transportation.) What better place to begin, than in the parks???
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.