Thursday, July 24, 2014

Are The National Parks Changing Course?

Dale Matson

Boundary Between Kings Canyon And Sequoia Parks

[Angel Moreno in the Thursday (July 24, 2014) Fresno Bee.]
“Officials at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have picked their choice for the parks' future over the next 25 to 30 years, but the public can still ask questions and submit comments on the draft Wilderness Stewardship Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. On Monday, park officials will hold an open house and public meeting to discuss the draft at the Visalia Marriott Hotel. The meeting is from 6 to 9 p.m., with the formal public discussion starting at 7 p.m. A webinar is set for Aug. 14.”
The one goal: "to preserve wilderness character, provide opportunities for and encourage public use and enjoyment of the wilderness, and improve conditions in areas where there may be unacceptable levels of impacts on wilderness character.’” [My Italics]

"It's a tough balancing act for Gregg Fauth, wilderness coordinator at Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The parks have a combined area of 865,964 acres, or 1,353 square miles, 97% of which is designated and managed as wilderness."

I also offer the following comment from William Tweed (retired chief park naturalist) in his book Uncertain Path: A Search For The Future Of The National Parks (2010). “After I left the agency, I set out to search for a new future for the national parks. I knew that on such a quest I would also have to consider the concept of designated wilderness, a mid twentieth century offshoot of the national parks idea.” (Page 4).

While park naturalists believe that global warming is changing the park ecosystems, they also see human use as a threat and are making changes in the parks to bring them more in line with the wilderness idea and less in line with the national park idea. Are national parks set aside for humans or have they become nature preserves?  SeKi already has a second layer of protection with 97% of the land also designated "Wilderness" (Act of 1964). Thus it is a national park and a wilderness area. The Merced River in Yosemite is now under the Wild Rivers Act of 2004 leaving Yosemite with three layers of protection. Death Valley National Park banned the annual Badwater Ultramarathon event this year. There is a pattern of less not more access. 

There are various issues in every park but I have to ask this question of the SeKi administrators. "Is the density of the hikers and backpackers in the park really a problem?" There are less visitors to an area larger than Yosemite. Unlike Yosemite with most of the 4 million visitors seeing it by car, most of SeKi is only accessible by trail.  I have spent considerable time in SeKi over the years as a hiker, backpacker and with the Fresno County Search and Rescue. I have also written a book on backpacking in Kings Canyon. In my experiences, I did not find trails to have anywhere near the density as the trail to Half Dome, which is already a trail that requires permits even for day hikers. This is however true of the Mt. Whitney trail which also requires permits for day hikers. Most of this trail is not actually in Sequoia Park.

Obviously, I would prefer for SeKi to keep things as they are according to the previous plan. The park does not really define what it means by providing opportunities and encouraging public use. Does this amount to more slide shows; less asphalt parking and even less trail permits issued? Does this mean more ‘front country’ activities? What does unacceptable levels of impacts on wilderness character mean? To me, it means simply this, less access.

Here is my proposal that may address both the concerns about human impact in the backcountry and providing access. There are a limited number of main trails in Kings Canyon like the Bubb’s Creek, Woods Creek, John Muir Trails. However, there are “use” trails (60 Lakes Basin), unmaintained trails, (Taboose Pass and Sawmill Pass) and abandoned trails (JMT into Lake Basin and Center Basin). Why not spend the money to reestablish and maintain these trails. It would provide incentives to backpackers who are timid or lack navigational skills to access some of these less visited areas. This would also reduce the amount of backpackers/hikers per trail mile. Those who backpack in SeKi not only benefit from the experience, they are the strongest and most vocal advocates for the parks. I would not mind one bit even being charged a trail maintenance fee IF those were dedicated funds only used for trail construction and maintenance.
Note:  Sorry I can't make the meeting. I will be backpacking on that date.


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