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Experts Ponder The Way In

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Sep 04, 2008 04:35 PM |


The Way In Poster

It's no secret that getting in to many of Washington's national parks and forests has become more difficult in recent years.  Last night, decision-makers, agency staff and academics gathered to discuss how we might restore lost access to these critical public lands

Washington's Parks and Forests Coalition (formerly the Northwest Storm Recovery Coaltion), an effort made up of the National Park Service, National Parks Conservation Association, Washington Trails Association and the Student Conservation Association, convened a panel of National Park Service staff, historians, economists and climatologists to discuss how weather has affected road access into national parks and how it might be restored.  Entitled The Way In:  The Future of Access to Northwest National Parks, it was kicked off by Congressman Jay Inslee, who started the discussion by pulling the lens back and reflecting on how unusual weather caused by global warming might account for lost road access to Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks in particular. 

He was followed by University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Cliff Mass, who provided some depth to the discussion of climate change and its impact on national parks, indicating that while there are some effects that might be laid at climate change's door, the jury is still out as to whether major wind and rain events are a result of a warming globe.

What followed these two presentations was a wide-ranging discussion of the future of national park roads, which is essentially the future of national parks themselves.  More than one audience member raised the question of whether or not the private passenger vehicle ought to be allowed in national parks at all.  Long-time members of WTA might remember that Mount Rainier National Park explored whether or not to require overnight park users to shuttle into the park via busses.  WTA argued against that notion, pointing out that returning from a backpacking trip cold, wet, tired and hungry and having to wait for a bus would be at the very least uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.  We would make the same argument today. 

Budget constraints combined with the placement of roads in watersheds vulnerable to flooding and river migration will force very difficult conversations in the next several years as to how we're going to manage national parks for vehicle access.  WTA takes a park-by-park and road-by-road perspective on this issue, resisting the temptation to apply a coarse screen to our decisions.  As panelists pointed out last night, national parks fill many and diverse needs and reflect important and enduring American values of conservation and the protection of natural beauty.  We have an obligation to approach these issues with clear eyes and integrity.

We welcome your questions and comments on how best to make these decisions.  We also encourage you to provide feedback via the first entry on Washington's Park and Forests Coalition's website, linked above.  Please don't hesitate to contact me at (206) 625-1367 or via email at