About those fraying National Parks

I don’t doubt that our National Parks are in need of repair, but some of them might find extra funds if they’d stop their climate change virtue signaling.

A watermill at Cades Cove

The Daily Caller reports that America’s National Parks are in a state of extreme disrepair:

The most iconic U.S. national parks need billions of dollars in maintenance to repair crumbling roads, dilapidated buildings, rundown campsites and leaky pipelines, according to experts and federal government figures.

Nearly $12 billion is needed to repair infrastructure, mostly crumbling roads, at 419 park units managed by the National Park Service (NPS). The maintenance backlog grew $313 million in 2018 alone, federal figures state.

“It’s a problem that cannot continue indefinitely,” John Garder, a senior director at the National Parks Conservation Association, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview.

The Interior Department has been grappling with its growing deferred maintenance backlog for years even as millions of people visit national parks every year. Park advocates worry the growing need for repairs could not only ruin a visitor’s experience but also damage natural habitats.

I’m not going to argue with that assessment, for I’m perfectly ready to believe that the federal government, whether through bureaucratic mismanagement, corruption, or actual lack of funds (perhaps partly due to being spread too thin thanks to Obama-era land grabs) has fallen down on the job of maintaining America’s National Parks. I wonder, though, if one of the funding problems might be misplaced priorities because the parks are staffed and managed by people who have bought wholesale into the whole climate change ideology.

Item One for my off-the-cuff theory is a story that made the rounds just last week: Glacier National Park had signs telling people to enjoy the glaciers while they could because anthropogenic climate change meant that they’d vanish by 2020. As with all climate change doom-and-gloom predictions, the signs were wrong and needed to be changed:

The National Park Service (NPS) quietly removed a visitor center sign saying the glaciers at Glacier National Park would disappear by 2020 due to climate change. [Ed: This article leads with a reference to one sign, but reading on makes it clear multiple signs were wrong and needed to be changed.]

As it turns out, higher-than-average snowfall in recent years upended computer model projections from the early 2000s that NPS based its claim glaciers “will all be gone by the year 2020,” federal officials said.

“Glacier retreat in Glacier National Park speeds up and slows down with fluctuations in the local climate,” the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which monitors Glacier National Park, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Those signs were based on the observation prior to 2010 that glaciers were shrinking more quickly than a computer model predicted they would,” USGS said. “Subsequently, larger than average snowfall over several winters slowed down that retreat rate and the 2020 date used in the NPS display does not apply anymore.”

Aside from the fact that it’s irritating to be hectored constantly by environmentalists (something that always irked me at San Francisco Zoo, where every animal enclosure came with a lecture), those signs cost money. Had they been done at a neighboring Kinko’s, they might have been cheap, but since they were federal signs on federal property, they were probably priced at federal prices. I’m sure you remember the $640 toilet seats at the Pentagon back in 1986. (That’s $1,495 per toilet seat in today’s dollars.)

And speaking of toilet seats, that brings me to Item Two in my short list of examples positing that climate change virtue signaling might be driving up management costs in our National Parks. In California, low flush toilets are ubiquitous. This makes sense because, the state has failed to upgrade its water infrastructure since 1960, despite regular droughts in a naturally semi-arid climate and the fact that the state’s population has doubled in 60 years. Not every place, though, suffers these kinds of shortages, which brings me to Cades Cove.

Cades Cove is a valley that’s part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The cove is extravagantly beautiful. It also has an interesting history. In the late 18th century, the Cherokee established a small village (or possibly just a permanent hunting camp) in Cades Cove. In 1819, thanks to the Treaty of Calhoun, the Cherokee lost their claim to the cove. Europeans came to the cove in 1818.

What makes this remote cove fascinating is that the small group of families that settled there lived in relative isolation for the next 100 plus years. They were not completely isolated, for they traded with neighboring communities, had a post office, sided with the Union in the Civil War, and also sent their sons to WWI and WWII. Still, Cades Coves’ residents were an isolated community, making moonshine, marrying within the community, supporting several very fundamentalist churches, and not having water or electricity until the 1930s and 1940s. Their rudimentary cabins and churches remain to delight the visitor looking to see how Americans lived in a pre-modern era.

I found something else fascinating about Cades Cove, which is that the National Park Service is doing an unimpressive job of managing the place. For one thing, there are no placards at the various sites. A one-way, 11-mile road takes the visitor past 12 different historic structures. None of them have information beyond the name of the structure. At Glacier National Park, they’re spending money on nonsensical signs to warn about a nonexistent glacier Armageddon, but at Cades Cove they can’t be bothered to tell visitors about the sights.

The visitor’s center was no help. Rather than having a display with good information about Cades Cove, it was just a gift shop that was almost indistinguishable from the gift shops that litter the American landscape at privately held tourist attractions. There was one other thng about the visitor’s center that bugged me: the bathrooms.

To begin with, the women’s restroom was dirty, with toilet paper all over the floor. I don’t know if that was mismanagement or lack of funds, but the mess contrasted strongly with the obviously recently retrofitted low flow toilets in each stall. This kind of low flow toilet:

Those low-flow handles aren’t that expensive, but they obviously cost more than leaving the old handles in place. They also make no sense to me. According to the National Park Service, “The average annual rainfall in the highest elevations of the park is around 85 inches.” To help put that rainfall in perspective, San Francisco averages less than 20 inches of rain per year; Minneapolis averages 28 inches of rain per year; and New York City averages 47 inches of rain per year. In other words, there’s a lot of water in the Smoky Mountains. In other words, water conservation in the Golden Gate Recreation Area makes sense. It makes less sense in one of the rainier regions in the U.S. (Please advise me if I’m wrong, and that in fact it’s difficult to get water into and sewage out of the well-visited cove.)

While those handles are a minor cost in a big budget, if you multiply climate change virtue signaling costs (e.g., signage and flush handles) across the entire National Park system, it’s going to add up. You could say that we’re going to see lots of public money get flushed down the toilet. Between land grabs and virtue signaling, before pouring more money into the parks, we the taxpayers should first see unnecessary costs chopped from the federal budget.

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