I've been watching the PBS documentary by Ken Burns on America's National Parks. He produced an absolute masterpiece with his Civil War doc but has also had a clinker or two, most notably the baseball doc, which should have been titled, "The Very Limited History of Baseball in New York and Boston". I must admit that this one is pretty good and has a nice overview of the evolution of thought that made the concept of a national park possible, as well as the history and often sleazy politics that swirled around the creation of most parks in our system. Those political forces are still at work today.
After the parks were set aside by Congress, it seemed like the struggle over what form they should take had just begun. The image of Congress in all of these dealings is not a good one. First they needed to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into setting the land aside by concerned citizens and forward thinking political figures. This aggravated many of their under the table funding sources in the extractive industries like lumbering and mining, and made it tough for them to 'do the right thing'. They would then routinely not appropriate any money to run parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite until the army had to be called in to prevent their buddies, the lumber and timber guys, from just going ahead and logging and mining anyway. Once that craziness had settled down, the issue became what form the parks would take. Attitudes of guys like John Muir who advocated zero development clashed with those like Stephen Mather,the first NPS Director, who thought a paved highway and scenic overlook would be nice for every attraction in every park. In a lot of ways, that's where we are at now and the discussion over the management plan for the Apostle Islands is a microcosm of this national struggle.
It would be an oversimplification to say that the debate over the direction of the AINL is between the attitude that the whole park should be the incorporated into the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness area versus a 12 slip marina on every island and paved, handicapped accessible trails and facilities for every attraction in the park. Its a great big balancing act between those two extremes and a very nuanced debate over the pure outdoor experience vs Yellowstone-like traffic jams with the 'overlook crowd'. Once again, we have until the third week in October to get our thoughts and recommendations on the plan up to AINL HQ in Bayfield and its officially October today. Political forces are most certainly at work and the more input from those of us who actually use, enjoy, and dare I say, love the park, the better guarantee we have of a good and equitable plan. Those of us that have been to the majority of the islands have especially valuable insight to communicate. I've spoken to more than one NPS employee that has not set foot on more than 2 or 3 islands so input from 'expert witnesses' is particularly crucial.
Tomorrow seven of us leave for another National Park in the area, Voyageurs, up on the US-Canada border. This is yet another annual event, the DLW III (Damn Long Weekend, year 3). This park has similar wilderness vs maximum usage issues with gigantic houseboats, water slides included, and 150hp fishing boats zooming around for most of the summer. This time of year however, it is a wilderness experience because most of those folks have the boats up on blocks and the Stabil in the gas tanks. Plus they just don't like cold weather for the most part and it will most certainly be in the low 30's F this weekend at night. Like the Apostles, when the visit is made is very pertinent to the kind of experience that can be expected. I guess in that sense, we can have our cake and eat it too. When I get back I plan on getting my comments on the AINL plan up to Bayfileld and hope that a few of the blog readers will do the same.