Kayaking News

Endangered Parks for Kayakers
The National Parks Conservation Association has just released a list of the 10 Most Endangered National Parks, and several places near and dear to paddlers' hearts are on the list.

The parks listed are: Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas), Biscayne National Park (Florida), Everglades National Park (Florida), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee), Joshua Tree National Park (California); Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona); Shenandoah National Park (Virginia), Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program (26 states and Washington, D.C.), Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska), and Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming).

See a slide show on the NPCA's Web page, www.npca.org.

Air pollution, years of inadequate funding, and damaging policies are among the troubles besetting these national parks.

"Our national heritage deserves attention as much as the space program," said NPCA President Thomas C. Kiernan. "Four years ago, Candidate Bush promised to 'restore and renew' our national parks. It's time for Congress and the administration to follow through on that pledge. Without restoring the best of America - our national parks - we lose inspiration for the future."

At present, national parks continue to suffer from harmful administration actions, including changes to the Clean Air Act that allow outdated smokestack industries to continue operating without modern pollution controls, regulations that could lead to new road-building in national parks, and failure to follow up adequately on campaign promises for better park funding. Restoring America's national parks includes increasing the Park Service's annual budget by $600 million and enforcing clean air protections.

Parks in this year's list, in alphabetical order with their biggest threats, are:

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas): Sale of private lands and increased efforts to drill for oil and gas could fragment and destroy wildlife habitat by promoting haphazard development along park borders; dam proposals could alter much of the preserve's unique wildlife habitat; Biscayne National Park (Florida): Important fish and coral populations are threatened by overfishing, destructive use, and pollution; sensitive coastline slated for wetlands restoration is being developed, impeding the restoration of the fresh water flows necessary to restore the estuary; Everglades National Park (Florida): Failure to emphasize ecological recovery in the restoration plan guidelines, a lack of action to acquire a critical portion of wetland, and insufficient funding threaten this park; Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee): Pollution from coal-fired power plants threatens the health of park visitors, plants, and wildlife and diminishes scenic views; administration rollbacks of clean-air protections compounds threats; Joshua Tree National Park (California): Development along park borders threatens to fragment critical wildlife corridors, degrade already poor air quality, and deplete critical aquifers; Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona): Insufficient funding leaves the Park Service unable to address extensive damage to the border park's extraordinary array of Sonoran Desert plants and wildlife; Shenandoah National Park (Virginia): Pollution endangers plants, animals, and scenic vistas; non-native invasive plants and insects damage native vegetation, and insufficient funding undermines the park; Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program (26 states and Washington, D.C.): Without adequate funding, the program is losing the opportunity and ability to create a comprehensive collection of sites, stories, and artifacts, depriving future generations of perhaps the best illustrations of an important aspect of American history; Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska): Irresponsible ATV use is scarring the park; a harmful administration policy could allow more than 1,700 miles of proposed roads through the park; and Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming): Ongoing pressure to continue snowmobile use that Park Service studies have determined threatens the health and enjoyment of visitors and staff, diminishes air quality, and jeopardizes wildlife; inadequate funding for day-to-day needs cripples Park Service capabilities; and the park's iconic bison are harassed by snowmobiles and killed by Montana officials when the animals wander off parklands in search of food.

"Directly addressing park threats is a vital strategy in protecting our national parks," said Kiernan. "In fact, implementing that strategy, along with others, is the reason four parks that were in grave danger in 2003 have been removed from this year's list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks."

Parks delisted this year, and the reasons for their removal, are:

Glacier National Park (Montana): The Canadian federal government has proposed doubling the size of Waterton Lakes National Park, part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park; the Montana delegation is working with the park, NPCA, and local communities to help fund repairs to Going-to-the-Sun Road; Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska): The Denali Borough will make no recommendations in 2004 about a proposed new northern access route to the park; the state's congressional delegation did not attach any riders to legislation that would have allowed motorized access into the park's wilderness core; Ocmulgee National Monument (Georgia): Support for one of the most damaging routes planned to go through the Ocmulgee Old Fields, a historic area that includes the park and adjacent lands, has greatly diminished, thanks to growing recognition of the area's national significance. However, a plan to protect this area still must be developed. The Federal Highway Administration did not include the freeway project in last year's list of expedited projects; and Virgin Islands National Park (U.S.V.I.): The park has begun to enforce no-take zones, which will protect vulnerable fish and coral populations.

"Our national parks are the soul of America, protecting and celebrating our country's core values and treasures," said NPCA President Thomas C. Kiernan. "As such, our parks deserve our utmost respect."

Find out more at the NPCA's Web site, www.npca.org.

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