Tourist Tuesday – Crisis in our National Parks, 11/27/18


Here is the link for the full article:

I urge everyone who cares about our natural places, including Big Sur, to read the entire article. I offer a few tidbits to entice you to do so:

“Social media is the number one driver,” said Maschelle Zia, who manages Horseshoe Bend for the Glen Canyon national recreation area. “People don’t come here for solitude. They are looking for the iconic photo.” Advertising is no longer needed. The visitors do it on instagram, twitter, facebook, and other social media, and yet organizations continue to spend huge sums to advertise places that are already overcrowded.

Big Sur is not the only natural landscape suffering, but it is one with unique challenges. One of many issues that Big Sur faces is that there are many agencies responsible for Big Sur: USFS, State Parks, County Parks, UCSC, a few non-profits, businesses and private landowners. Like-wise, there are several entities who are responsible for exploiting Big Sur: Visit CaliforniaSee California, Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the California Film Commission and Monterey County Film Commission and others. These entities spend tens of millions of dollars each year on advertising Big Sur to bring in revenue for their member businesses, the organizations, and themselves. This is money that could be better spent on working together with residents to find the balance that protects the environment, the community, the local businesses, AND the visitors. It is time to preserve the area before it is completely destroyed.

From MCCVB’s Chief Marketing Officer, Rob O’Keefe on Monterey County as a travel destination: “It’s smaller, it’s more intimate, it’s authentic,” O’Keefe says. “You come to Monterey County and you feel like an invited guest.” (As quoted in the SFChron, 11/21/18.)

I looked around the downtown area of Monterey from the 2nd floor of the Conference Center a few months back, and saw the double parking garages, the commercialization specifically geared toward bringing in more and more visitors. Maybe because I remember it from 35 years ago, but I do not find this “authentic.” I noted the Custom House Plaza, the walkways. It is not natural, it is not authentic. The culture of the working wharf, working people and the fishermen has been lost. Is this what we want for Big Sur? I ask, because that is where we are headed. The more visitors we bring in, the more we have to alter the natural environment to accommodate them. We need only look to my last article on Horseshoe Bend.

“Across America, national parks and public lands are facing a crisis of popularity. Technology, successful marketing, and international tourism have brought a surge in visitation unlike anything seen before. In 2016 and 2017, the national parks saw an unprecedented 330.9 million visitors, the highest ever recorded. That’s not far off the US population itself. (This bears repeating, the National Parks in 2016 and 2017 brought in almost the same number of visitors as the population of the ENTIRE United States.)

Backcountry trails are clogging up, mountain roads are thickening with traffic, picturesque vistas are morphing into selfie-taking scrums. And in the process, what is most loved about them risks being lost.”



“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 $20,000 annually. In Colorado, Rocky Mountain national park churns through more than 1,800 miles of toilet paper a year. Yellowstone spent $28,000 on hand sanitizer last summer alone, according to a park official.

As waste mounts, finding someone to take care of it becomes more difficult.”

Big Sur cannot continue on its current path, or it too, risks losing  what is most loved about this area. We must find ways to work with those who would exploit us, so that we can achieve the balance which we must. Watch for a notice of The Big Sur Pledge, modeled on the one Kauai instituted. It is long past time we pledge to honor and protect our home and help our visitors to do the same. It will take all of us.

Now, if you are interested, here is the rest of the article:


4 thoughts on “Tourist Tuesday – Crisis in our National Parks, 11/27/18

  1. Thank you Kate. As stewards of this place, we can and must demonstrate the leadership needed to bring the impact of visitors into balance with the needs of residents, businesses, wildlife and the fragile landscape. This will command a collaborative effort of government, business, non-profits, and residents. Let’s be a positive example to other wild places that are under siege.

  2. The statistics in this report (331 million visitors to the parks in two years) would suggest that the recent recommendations in a report from the Coastal Conservancy, recommending ways to increase access for lower income visitors to the coast of California, is not really needed. It appears that they are already here. Let’s work on evidence-based innovations to address the current challenges and improve everyone’s experience, rather than spend more money on unsustainable unfettered access.

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