Sat, Nov 24, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Crisis in national parks: How tourists are loving
nature to death

As thrill seekers and Instagrammers swarm public lands, reporting from seven sites across the US shows the scale of the threat

By Charlotte Simmonds, et al  /  The Guardian

Wenk said rangers feel overwhelmed.

“We’re exceeding the carrying capacity and because of it damage is being caused to park resources,” he said.

There has been a 90 percent increase in vehicle accidents, a 60 percent bump in calls for ambulance services and a 130 percent rise in searches and rescues, according to the park.

And while visitation has swelled, staffing, because of budget limitations, has remained the same.

Traffic woes are not confined to park roads. At Glacier national park in Montana (annual visitation: 3.3 million), parking lots, too, have seen tense standoffs.

The Logan Pass Visitor Center dates back to the Mission 66 era. Perched at the top of Going-to-the-Sun Road, a precarious mountain artery which makes an appearance in the opening scene of The Shining, the center offers access to two of Glacier’s most popular trails — and just 231 parking spots.

“It’s a tough situation,” said Gary Cassier, a visitor from Kalispell, Montana, whose wife was still circling in their car, one of many seeking a spot.

Looking out over the alpine meadows and near-vertical slopes, he said: “Nobody wants to see a multilevel parking garage here.”

Sometimes the battle for a spot turns physical.

“We get fistfights in the parking lot,” said Emlon Stanton, a visitor service assistant.

Some visitors even try to claim a spot for their groups on foot.

“People get out of their vehicle, jump into a space and stand there,” Stanton said. “Then somebody tries to pull in and bumps ’em.”

Stanton and other park workers try to prevent such episodes by imposing “soft closures” on the lot — placing traffic cones across its entrance and telling visitors to find parking at the next pullout, 5km away, and take a shuttle back.

These closures can happen three to five times a day.

“From a staff perspective, it’s hard,” park spokesperson Lauren Alley said. “‘Service’ is in our name, and to tell people, over and over, all day long, ‘We’re full, you’ll have to wait’... It’s a real challenge.”

A STINKING PROBLEM

It is late summer on the Yellowstone River, just north of Gardiner, Montana. A group of anglers stand around their boat trailer, sipping beers and rigging fly rods in the late-morning sun as they wait their turn to launch into the water.

This gravel boat ramp sees a lot of action, but not far off, something stinks. It is something everybody uses and something that has been a headache for forest officials lately: a toilet.

Dealing with human waste has become a herculean undertaking for parks, one that is often hidden from view.

In Zion, two outhouses near Angel’s Landing that were described by one writer as reminiscent of “an open sewer” have to be emptied by helicopter at a cost of US$20,000 annually.

In Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park churns through more than 2,900km of toilet paper a year.

Yellowstone spent US$28,000 on hand sanitizer last summer alone, a park official said.

As waste mounts, finding someone to take care of it becomes more difficult. The Custer Gallatin National Forest, which stretches from the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, to South Dakota, exemplifies this conundrum.

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