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National Park Service Breaks Law Over Crowd Control

by Countable | 10.26.17

What’s the story?

The National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 directs the National Park Service (NPS) to create management plans that identify and implement "visitor carrying capacities for all areas" of America’s national parks. This could include capping the number of visitors or developing criteria for containing the impact of an abundance of visitors.

Recently, there’s been that abundance. As the New York Times stated in a headline last month, "National Parks Struggle With a Mounting Crisis: Too Many Visitors." In 2016, the National Park Service tracked a record 331 million visits. This year, the NPS is expecting to surpass that number.

Yet, because of budget cuts and maintenance backlogs, the NPS hasn’t addressed the issue of overcrowding — and in failing to do so, is breaking the law.

Why does it matter?

As the Times’ story explained, "the number of park visitors has reached an unprecedented level, leaving many tourists frustrated and many environmentalists concerned about the toll of overcrowding." The article talks about “selfie-takers” clogging slender paths, shuttle busses “filled like sweaty subway cars,” and toilets in Zion National Park marked off with a sign reading: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”

"National Parks Punt On Overcrowding," stated a report last year by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The watchdog organization for NPS employees found that the “statutory requirement for parks to establish carrying capacities [has been] widely ignored.” Of the 108 National Parks, Preserves, and Reserves, PEER found that only seven had established carrying capacities — and only one had implemented a carrying capacity plan for the entire park.

"The safeguards Congress enacted to prevent national parks from being loved to death have become dead letters," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. Referencing the NPS campaign called “Find Your Park,” Ruch said:

"Instead of ‘Find Your Park,’ this summer the challenge should be called ‘Find a Place to Park.’"

As Pacific Standard explained, "this law breaking…is not entirely the NPS’s fault." The magazine noted that even though parks are increasing in popularity, “the agency suffocates under a nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog and is threatened by steep budget cuts.” The Trump administration is looking into ways “to slash the agency's discretionary budget by 13 percent and shrink its workforce by more than 1,200 employees.”

"How can the NPS adequately manage enormous crowds if it is hemorrhaging both cash and employees?" Pacific Standard asked.

What do you think?

Have you visited a National Park recently? Did you experience overcrowding? Zion National Park is considering requiring reservations for entry in 2018. Should othernly national parks consider the same? Or does Congress need to revisit the National Parks and Recreation Act? Or provide the NPS additional funds? Hit Take Action, tell your reps, then tell your fellow NPS visitors below.

— Josh Herman

Related Reading

(Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park)

Countable

Written by Countable

Leave a comment
(35)
  • Jean
    10/26/2017
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    A connection to Nature is essential to human health and wellbeing. It's not surprising the NPS is crowded --- people are rushing to get their connection. The administration should be working to manage this need by supporting the NPS not disabling it. Cut funding from military or increases taxes on the 1% and support our Natural Capital!

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  • Mary
    10/26/2017
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    The National Parks are an American treasure. They should be adequately funded to maintain their beauty. They are already underfunded.

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  • OlderNWiser
    10/26/2017
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    With national parks in a crisis of overuse paired with slashed funding, we are in danger of losing the very wilderness and beauty that keeps Americans sane. Please do everything in your power to increase funding to our national parks. Thank you for your work, which must be profoundly challenging in these times.

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  • Cindylen
    10/26/2017
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    In general I trust the people that work with our national parks. And I know that they were adamant about getting good and honest science out to the people earlier this year. But I believe that a trumpster was recently put in charge. Do good, Rangers. You have our respect, but stand your ground, we need you.

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  • RadicalModerate
    10/26/2017
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    Fully fund the national park service. Cut the DOD In half. Hire the vets for park service.

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  • Tim
    10/26/2017
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    The National Park Service is the greatest thing this country ever produced (along with NASA). It should be cherished and funded at levels that match that benefit to the American public.

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  • Mary
    10/26/2017
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    We need to protect these national jewels. Cutting their already insufficient funding is not the answer. These parks need to use trams and limit cars traveling through them. They need to be strict about the number of people allowed in. We must be careful to not raise fees so much that only the elite can afford to visit them. Some reservations are ok for people staying in the park either camping or staying at the parks hotels. But there needs to be a first come first serve for the rest of the visitors based on maximum capacity. There also could be a support your national parks option on our income taxes that allows people to contribute to their upkeep. Also one could buy a pass for the upcoming year based on income

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  • Pam
    10/26/2017
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    Our National Park Service is a natural treason and should be protected by using government funds to properly staff and maintain. I believe our rangers when they suggest common sense ways to handle crowding during peak vacation times. I am also appalled and furious that this administration wants to jeopardize national parks by allowing drilling and mining. They are selling out our heritage to the highest bidding (who was, more than likely, a big donor).

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  • Deirdre
    10/26/2017
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    Keep the parks open, our tax dollars pay for them they belong to the American people

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  • pamster
    10/26/2017
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    As others have eloquently stated: we need to see that the NPS is funded so that it can carry out all of its management mandates. The overcrowding is a symptom of lack of management, not because of mistakes and mis-management of the NPS, but for lack of funding to carry out adequate management.

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  • Amy
    10/26/2017
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    Overcrowded National Parks are not good for anyone. It is harmful for the protected environment. Also the experience is ruined if you feel like you are on a city bus or being smothered by crowds or there are bathrooms that have reached capacity. I have experienced this many times visiting various National Parks

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  • BeStrong
    10/27/2017
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    And just in time for a fee hike...this Administration is replete with profiteers.

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  • Ticktock
    10/26/2017
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    This is part and parcel of the problem with the Republicans tax and budget plans. They cut taxes claiming that by cutting them they will magically generate greater tax revenues. That was the claim made by Reagan at every tax cut since. None of them worked out that way, they increased the deficit and every time a tax cut is on the table it’s for corporations, the rich and the same rationale is used to justify the cut with assurances that “this time it’ll be different”. These tax cuts result in the budget cuts for social programs for the middle class and poor, for the cuts in our public school funding and budget cuts in important governmental agencies like the NPS, EPA, CDC, FDA and FCC. These agencies service primarily middle America not the rich who has the ability to group and financially protect themselves. The budgets of these agencies need to be restored and enlarged. They service middle income and poor Americans. Corporations and the rich complain that they pay too much in taxes but guess who gets the greatest benefit in our economy, not the people who are working two or more jobs at minimum wage or the families whose total house hold income is $70,000 per year. It’s the rich who make more than $250,000 per year. These are the people that the Republicans service not you or I. These are the people that a Republican tax cut will benefit.

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  • Sharyl
    10/26/2017
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    Either provide the funding necessary to allow NPS to protect our national resources or allow the restrictions for visitors. Too many people disrespect our precious natural resources.

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  • KansasTamale
    10/26/2017
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    Capping visitors to protect the parks is just smoke & mirrors to say - OH. THERE AREN’T ENOUGH PEOPLE VISITING OUR PARKS SO WE DON’T NEED TO FUND THEM ANYMORE & LET’S JUST SELL THE MINERAL RIGHTS SO WE CAN FUND THEM. - all they are trying to do is do away with our park system.

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  • Amanda
    10/26/2017
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    Take care of our National Parks staff. People shouldn’t be discouraged from embracing the beauty of our nation. These parks should be provided the appropriate amount of support to maintain them. Staff and Funds Shouldn’t be cut! Especially knowing that the money most likely wouldn’t be transferred to an equally worthy cause.

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  • Mark
    10/26/2017
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    Living in this small government Conservative Republican American viewpoint, close all federal parks now! Don’t you know by now America is broke! Who needs federal parks?

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  • Themis
    10/26/2017
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    Our parks are an important resource that should be preserved and improved for future generations to enjoy. Do not let short sighted budget hawks destroy the last vestiges of our natural beauty.

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  • Randall
    10/26/2017
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    The money to manage and maintain the parks adequately is less than the INCREASE of the defense budget. Shameful.

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  • Plegian
    10/26/2017
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    Thank you Teddy Roosevelt. The natural beauty of our country is preserved in our national parks. Overcrowding needs to be addressed along with needed federal money to maintain our parks for future generations. Now, more than ever, federal land should be expanded to create more national parks to accommodate the growing population and the growing foreign tourism visiting our country.

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