Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pulling in our horns?

Fat Tuesday began with a fine jazz concert at the VOR's place of employment, and moved to Grumpy's Bar with a five buck Guinness pint-keep the glass-pre St Pats promo. There was optimistic talk about the first Apostle Islands trip of the year in early April and the fact that last year's first campsite still had picnic table high snow on it. And I still got home in time to catch The Speech.

With massive federal dollars heading in all directions, its going to be tough to avoid 'drunken sailor in the whorehouse' spending no matter what anyone says. These are our dollars of course, or at least those of us on the 'producer' side of the equation. I joined the members of the audience who hooted in derision when President Obama stated that all earmarks had been removed from this bill. That being said, I think that more than a few cutbacks (best of luck on cutting those agricultural subsidies, origin of the term 'pork barrel') need to be made in addition to the deluge of federal manna from heaven. I read an interesting opinion piece in the St Paul paper about a couple of possible axe worthy programs that are administered by the National Park Service and it provoked some interesting discussion.

We apparently have NPS administered National River and Recreation Areas and the National Heritage Areas. I don't believe I've ever been to a National Heritage area but apparently I live in a National River and Recreation Area, the Mississippi NRRA. The main thing that always amazes me is the convoluted mish mash of overlapping jurisdictions on these things. Were I ever to get the nerve to execute my anti cliff jumping ban protest at St Croix Falls on the Wild and Scenic St Croix River, I could be arrested by any one of a number of agencies. NPS LE personnel, St Croix County sheriff, Chisago County sheriff, Taylors Falls city cops, St Croix Falls city cops, Minnesota State Patrol, Wisconsin State Patrol, or DNR personnel from Minnesota or Wisconsin. Somehow, that makes no sense and I'm from here! Imagine trying to explain this to a foreign visitor. My Irish cycling buddy, BobbyPaul from Cumbria, Northern England, was in the country on a cultural exchange a few years back. I was showing him northern Wisconsin sites like Madeline Island, the Reefer Creek deer camp, Apostle Islands sea caves, and Patsy's Bar in Washburn. One of the things that amazed him, along with attractive female bartenders and "bloody huge lorries", was that very same jurisdictional concept. As a proud member of the Cumbria Constabulary, he found it difficult to comprehend why we needed a half dozen agencies doing pretty much the same thing. The discussion was prompted as we drove through the soverign nation of Bad River and I told him that if he got pissed off and decided to punch me that he could be arrested by at least 7 or 8 different agencies.
In our very own Mississippi NRRA we have well over a dozen city, regional, and state parks and historical sites along the river. Coon Rapids dam, Islands of Peace, Boom Island, Historic Mills District, Ft Snelling State Park, Pike Island, HIdden Falls, and probably a dozen more I've forgotten. What value does the National Park Service add by making the area a NRRA? And who the hell is in charge of what? Rather than a bunch of signs proclaiming the Mississippi NRRA and a lovely visitors center in the science museum, I guess I'd rather see the couple million bucks (a small rounding error in the billions we're debating nationally) go to my buddies up in the Apostle Islands, Voyageurs, Isle Royale, or Pictured Rocks.

Read the article and let me know what you think; I would find it very interesting to hear some other opinions. And please contact your national elected officials and plead with them to let me jump off those cliffs in Interstate Park once again. I'll be careful, I promise!


Nan said...

It's an interesting puzzle. The problem with all of them is too many stakeholders, all those competing units of government, various ngos, private property owners, etc., all wanting to run the show. Lots of headaches, very little reward.

Congress is to blame, of course. Behind every one of those heritage areas or recreational area or whatever is a Congress critter who wanted the NPS arrowhead somewhere in his or her district. Some of them make sense, but even with the actual "parks," the ones NPS owns and manages outright, there are a bunch where you find yourself thinking, "Well, this would have made an interesting county or township park, but National? No way." I visited one or two while working for NPS where my reaction was an unspoken (at least while I was at the "park") "is there anyway we can dump this one?"

In the case of some of the river recreation areas, though, they're called into existence because all those various competing jurisdictions can't get their acts together to manage pollution, recreation, whatever, and NPS ends up in a position no one in the agency ever wanted.

Maybe Ranger Bob will do one of his long, thoughtful explications of NPS weirdness and enlighten us all.

Ranger Bob said...

Heh... no need, I think; Nan cut to the meat of the matter pretty effectively.

Please do keep in mind that it is usually some local interest or other that pushes for these designations; the NPS has historically been reluctant to accept responsibility for areas that don't meet prevailing conceptions of national park standards. By coincidence, this week I've been compiling newspaper articles from 1929-30 recounting how hard Chequamegon Bay boosters pushed for establishment of an Apostle Islands National Park; a proposal that the agency rejected as not measuring up.

Only other thing I would add is that you might tell your Cumbrian friend that the overlapping jurisdiction confusion is caused at least in part by the value we place on local autonomy. If I blow a stop sign in downtown Washburn, I might get written up by a Washburn cop, a Bayfield County deputy, or a passing state trooper, but so far at least I don't have to worry about an agent of the centralized National Police. (And with the retirement of Dick Cheney from public life, probably never will.)

DaveO said...

I just want to be able to jump off a GD cliff without federal interference! I have also been at some federal historic sites that would make excellent town parks if you just added a nice swing set to em. People want the federal $$ but then when the federal rules show up everyone is indignant. We are a bunch of dumb asses, aren't we? And as far as water quality rules, our MN PCA makes the EPA look like a bunch of tire burning, sewage discharging robber barons.

Ranger Bob said...

"I just want to be able to jump off a GD cliff without federal interference!"

Well, good luck on that. Once any government entity gets involved, rules get made and signs go up.

Uncle is pretty big on erring on the side of caution when it comes to safety issues, to be sure, but at least you can get into the damn park. In many jurisdictions I know back east, out-of-town visitors aren't even allowed into town or county parks. (The unspoken agenda is to keep those nasty inner-city types out of their lily-white suburban playgrounds.)

I often think there really is something to be said for anarchy...

Nan said...

Think you've already answered your own questions, Dave. People want the NPS for various reasons, from preservation to economic development, but don't anticipate the rules that come with it.

Maybe you could get together with fellow cliff jumpers and push Saint Croix to designate one day per year as "risk your neck" day, kind of like the one day a year when people can jump off the New River Bridge in West Virginia. As for the swing set. . . obviously you've been to "parks" similar to the ones I wanted to hand back to the local township.

Silbs said...

Hey, it's just good clean fun called pollitics. By the way, has anyone heard from our kayak lobbyist lately?

DaveO said...

We have a kayak lobbyist? Who the hell is that?