Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Bayfield, Wisc. Visited: May 23, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 48 of 353 NPS Website
We attempted to visit the Apostle Islands early in the C2C trip only to find its doors closed to us and to any other visitor who may have wanted to begin their holiday weekend early. We were shocked, angry, disappointed and this is what we had to say about all of it in May 2004.
NPS Budget Cuts What's the Big Deal?
We are sorry that our Visitor Center is not open today. In order to maintain visitor services during our busiest times, we have had to reduce our hours of operation during the shoulder seasons and late in the day because of budget operations.
This sign greeted us at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Visitor Center after a very long drive in May. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. A day that would have been perfect for exploring the islands, maybe even camping. First we were disappointed, then we were angry, then we were really angry, and then we resigned ourselves to driving another hundred miles to find a place to stay.
A month later, we found ourselves in the middle of Lake Superior, twiddling our thumbs while we waited for a nasty storm to subside and Captain Ryan to come rescue us from Isle Royale NP. Practically all educational programs have been eliminated there, along with Rangers that used to patrol the backcountry area, which accounts for 98% of the island. No Ranger talks to attend. Not even a video to watch. No refuge from our own imaginations other than huddling together in our shelter with a crossword book or harassing the teenager working in the Park store.
A pamphlet at Isle Royale explains what was at the park, what isn’t now, and what it would take to get those things back. The answer: money. Environmental and cultural interpretation programs at the Park Service have been suffering from budget shortfalls for over a decade. As a result, parks are forced to reduce staff, hours of operation, and services.
In some parks, touch screen computer monitors and palm pilots have taken the place of people. In others, volunteers attempt to answer questions they are not qualified to answer, leaving inquisitive visitors only more confused, or worse, misinformed.
Rangers at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Historic Site proudly tell visitors that those who stop at the site received personalized attention. They then have to let us know that they close two and a half hours early because they simply cannot staff the regular hours.
In my other existence, outside of the USA-C2C expedition, I work for a nonprofit association which represents services and supports for people with mental retardation in Pennsylvania. Like most social services, these providers are suffering from budget cuts which, when compounded year after year, have created a system in crisis. I fear that the same thing is happening to our national parks system.
What is the big deal? Providers aren’t going out of business. People aren’t being put out on the street. Even though you complain every year, you seem to be able to do more with less. Maybe if you managed things better, you wouldn’t have a problem.
This is what I hear when I advocate for more funding for services for people with mental retardation.
Why are you panicking? None of the parks have closed. They are still there. They are not going away. So there are less staff and fewer programs; some parks seem to be able to compensate or at least make do. Maybe they didn’t need that many rangers in the first place.
This is what I hear when others speak out about serious problems in the National Park system.
Both the mental retardation service system and the National Park Service are dependent upon public funds. Both rely on legislative allocations to let them know what they can and cannot do for the upcoming year. These allocations may or may not allow them to fulfill their mandates to the American public. What happens when there is a gap between what they are obligated to do and what they are funded to do?
The North Unit of the Badlands NP relies solely on volunteers to lead their “Ranger-led” talks and have cancelled this summer’s Ranger Night Crawl altogether. This will be the final year for the “Pig Dig,” an archeological research project that has existed in some form since the Badlands was made a national park. The Badlands South Unit, now called the Stronghold Unit, has been all but forgotten.
Fort Laramie NHS, once teeming with Rangers, one in every building baking bread, running the store, working in the blacksmith shop, now has one to run the entire grounds. Visitation to this site has not decreased. It seems as if the desire to accurately explain one of the most significant sites in our nation’s history has.
We have been on the road for almost six months. We have visited over one hundred National Park areas. In many ways, we are living a dream. We have met wonderful and dedicated Rangers who want nothing more than to share their love of the parks with those who are interested. We have also met incredibly overworked, frazzled Rangers who are hesitant to admit the real reasons why they are unable to offer tours or why they cannot spend as much time with us as they would like.
There is no doubt that cuts to the environmental and cultural interpretation portions of the NPS budget have affected our journey. Unlike most people visiting the parks, we have the luxury of unlimited time. Imagine that you had one week to share with your family. You choose one of our national treasures as the setting, only to find a sign just like the one on the door to the Apostle Islands Visitor Center. What could you do?
A quarter of the way through our trip, we are realizing our National Parks are in danger. What began as a very personal journey – a celebration of health and life and our relationship is rapidly turning into a mission. Some of you have written and told us that you are planning future trips and vacations using our reviews. Some of you have told us that we’ve sparked your interest in a place that you never knew existed. We are overjoyed. The more people that visit the parks and are aware of the obstacles they face, the better chance that their current situation, which in many ways is a crisis, will be addressed.
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