Nature Notes

Volume XIV No. 1 - September, 1948

The Extraneous And The Parks
By Dr. G. C. Ruhle, Park Naturalist

Originally our national parks were set aside with an expressed purpose of protecting the outstanding and peculiar values found within them. They were essentially in primitive state and the primitive was to be cherished and preserved. At the same time limited development was to be undertaken, so that visitors might come in reasonable ease to see, learn and enjoy. But always the scientific significance, the primitive character, the ideal of sanctuary for native life, both plant and animal, and the aesthetic appeal were to fashion park policy and operation. Any departure from these standards was to be regarded as unhealthful intrusion in the parks. Cultivation of crowds for the sake of records or profit was considered as unworthy violation of principle.

Within the past few years, numbers of visitors to national park areas have mounted to staggering figures, far surpassing a score of millions annually, and with these crowds come the many who understand not, neither do they love. Theirs is not a visit for inspiration, study, and appreciation of the natural phenomena. Theirs is not respect for cleanliness and order, for propriety and fitness and decorum, for consideration of the fellow who follows, let alone for generations unborn. Their wake is marked by roadsides strewn with bottles, cartons, and refuse, by vandalism to structures and natural features, by wildfolk with lives disrupted by unnatural feeding and fraternization, by waste meadows stripped of flowers and herbage, by charred masts in lifeless forests swept by fire. With decreasing revenues and man-power, park efforts have been futile to check and to minimize the devastation. They cry of alarm is rising from those who look beyond the use of national parks for picnicking, motoring, and conventional activities.

Drastic possible measures have been proposed to curb impairment of the parks from overuse and inflated development. One hears of limitation of numbers admitted, of control of numbers of campers in campgrounds, of removal of overnight facilities to sites remote from principal features, of day-use of parks only. Some advocate a screening of admittees; it were interesting to discover what screening process and what criteria would be advocated.

It seems that greatest consideration should be given to that which is charged by law as proper use of the parks. My contention is that if we restrict attractions to the enjoyment and interpretation of the features for which the park has been set aside, the overwhelming tide of visitors will be stemmed and controlled, and the destruction of the primitive will be checkmated. This, too, is drastic, for by it such crowd impellents as ski carnivals, conventions, mass picnics, are out, as are golf links, pinball machines, and dress dinners. This means that such lures as skiing, fishing, and dancing, all laudable in their proper sphere, be reduced to an incident in, and not the purpose of a visit to a park. All "sports" inducements, such as ski lifts and competitive meets, are incompatible with proper use, as predicated by those who seek refuge in them for silence, relaxation, aesthetic inspiration and to marvel over God's handiwork. It means further that artificialities, such as our Lady-of-the-Woods, yes, even the popular firefall in Yosemite, deserve the ban which has been put on the Rock-of-Ages ceremony in Carlsbad Cavern and on the various "bear shows" in other parks.

Crater Lake National Park has been exceptional in its resistance to the demands of a public seeking ordinary resort entertainment. Adequate, suitable divertissement of this type is and should be provided elsewhere than in a national park. We offer skiing, fishing, and similar diversions, but only as they may be the means by which one enjoys in fuller measure the natural wonders of the park. The Park Service welcomes the man who revels in wetting a fly in the singing streams of our parks while noting the exuberance of the companion ouzel, the sparkle of dancing waters, the caress of mountain breezes, the flowers nodding and dipping in the ripples, the diamond dew-drops on web and branchlet. Such a fisherman can have successful day fishing and still not catch a single fish. The Park Service beckons to the skier who delights in the wintery grandeur while gliding on langlauf through the somber forests on the mountains.

In the face of all of the serious impairment of the primitive in every national park, how can there be any question about the inadvisability of a "Come one, come all" program? Wilderness character is fragile and easily dissipated, and once lost, seems irrevocable despite our best efforts. The need for correction is urgent and delay is costly. Control what is offered to the visitor in a national park, and there will quickly be natural control of the visitor and visitor use of the park.

photo of Phantom Ship

Brief Eruption
By G. P. Walker, Ranger-Naturalist

It was Sunday afternoon in August, and Sinnott Memorial was full almost to the parapet. The lecturer had finished his discussion of the cycles of eruption and quiet. Trying to stir the interest of his audience, he started speculation on the possibilities of renewed volcanic activity. To ease any fears which they might have about the mountain exploding under their feet, he mentioned that any major eruption would undoubtedly be preceded by loud rumblings and at least some vibration of the earth. At this moment a tremendous roar struck the intent faces of his listeners. It was a full five seconds before the taut, fearful expectancy was broken by a nervous laugh. One by one visitors resumed breathing as they caught sight of the first jet planes to buzz Crater Lake disappearing over Llao Rock.

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