In a letter delivered August 30 to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, 80 recreation organizations called on the secretary to create a forum to address National Park Service issues such as visitation and diversity. Coordinating the letter and attendant news release was the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), according to Dorothy “Dottie” Shea, ARC’s communications director.
Specificially, ARC and its allies want to inquire as to “why the national park system is failing to provide the American public with the appropriate level of visitation to meet the nation’s mental, physical and spiritual needs.” These organizations, ARC points out, represent millions of outdoor recreation enthusiasts and segments of the recreation industry with sales exceeding $100 billion annually.
The letter emphasizes that the national park system was created to provide enjoyment in the form of recreation and education. “The U.S. system has inspired the creation of park systems around the world and has continued to grow in area in the U.S., now consisting of nearly 400 units covering more than 85 million acres,” ARC’s press release states. “Yet, as the letter points out, despite this growth in size and a 25% increase in the U.S. population over two decades — and despite increased awareness of the value of parks in providing Americans with safe and enjoyable opportunities for physical activity — park visits have declined.”
Among the many challenges facing the parks, ARC’s letter points out, none are more important overall than the threat of losing relevance to American families. “Support for national parks has been strong and broad,” ARC President Derrick Crandall is quoted as saying, “and has been anchored in memories of visits to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Americans have visited those parks and brought home a sense of grandeur – and a new commitment to conservation. But today national parks attract just 63 million visits annually – or about one visit per every five Americans. In reality, large numbers of international visitors and repeat visits by park enthusiasts mean that the actual percentage of Americans visiting our national parks is quite low.”
Crandall said that the letter’s signers hope that new Interior Secretary Kempthorne will direct the National Park Service (NPS) to create a forum to address these and other concerns, including a failure to promote greater awareness and use of units of the national park system’s national recreation areas, seashores, lakeshores and parkways.
“Many of these areas are ideal locations for helping Americans build a relationship with our legacy of the great outdoors,” said Crandall. “To achieve this goal, we need to explore ways to welcome activities ranging from mountain biking to geocaching to rock climbing to better interpretation and education using new wireless technologies.”
The letter’s 80 signees believe that increased use and enjoyment today are compatible with preservation of the resources for generations to come. “We look forward to working together to investigate and reverse the reasons for decline in benefits to the American people being provided by the national park system,” Crandall concluded.