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A Fight Teddy Roosevelt Might Have Lovedno - it's not a hairpiece, just a bad haircut                back to TTN home page
by Joe Harkins - Apr 28, 99

    Almost as an afterthought to last week's column about the official tourism web sites of the fifty states, I added a link to the National Park Service. A few days later, while strolling in Manhattan, I passed the childhood home of one of this country's most important Presidents. Some people say Teddy Roosevelt's greatest achievement was the awakening of America to environmental issues, especially the preservation of public lands.

    When I got home, I realized that merely mentioning one link to the National Park Service probably did not do justice to travelers' interests in the destinations his work secured for us. A search on the Internet confirmed that shortcoming, which I'm going to correct right now.

    Although the US National Park Service web site cited above makes a pleasant enough initial impression, you'll click your way past too much self-promotional stuff before you get to useful information on how actually to find and get to a national park. A related web site also disappoints for the same reason.

    The announced mission of the
National Park Foundation includes " . . . generate funds for grantmaking and assistance programs through gifts from private individuals, organizations and a range of fundraising and marketing activities." It escapes me why an expensive and totally separate bureaucratic structure is needed for that purpose, especially in the light of revelations on other web sites that suggest neither NPS nor NPF are very effective at keeping the parks affordable.

Free Our Parks and Forests outlines a fight TR might have called "splendid." FOPAF was founded three years ago upon outrage over the sharp rises in fees charged to the public for access. The site says, " . . . access to our national lands is a right which may not be restricted on the basis of income. We are opposed to charging a fee to access National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and other such publicly owned lands . . . " They point out that most of those fees do not go to the support of the parks but disappear into general tax funds.
    As usual, private web sites do a more efficient job of information delivery than those of agencies who mistake polishing their self-image for service to the public. The home page of private U.S. National Parks Net may not be as pretty as those created with public money but it gets right to the point with clickable links to pages of details about individual National Parks. The links are organized and cross referenced alphabetically and by state and by region.

American Parks, offered by Multicom Publishing to promote their CD-ROM, has cleverly linked their park locator to the Weather Channel. When you select a park, your browser opens to the current weather and five-day forecast for that area.

    But the private web site that, more than any other, shows what the official web sites are missing, is that of the
National Parks and Conservation Association. NPCA was founded in 1919 and today has nearly 400,000 members. They continue at the forefront of National Park protection, battling damaging projects at individual park areas, fighting national policies that may harm all the parks, and working to incorporate safeguards that will protect the future of the park system.

    NPCA goes beyond making necessary noises. Their guided tours of the parks are so popular that 1999 is totally sold out. However, visitors to the web site are offered an exclusive "sneak preview" of the tentative Y2K schedule and are invited to help plan that lineup.

    For those who would like to work from within the system, hopefully with the "subversive" intention of improving things, the parks and the contractors who operate hotels, cruises, tours, etc. inside them employ thousands of people, many of them young folk whose primary assets are their love of outdoors, their youthful energy and seasonal availability.
Cool Works lists those jobs and delivers practical guidance in applying for them.

    Next week, Travel The Net will look at the hundreds of National Parks in other countries around the world. Until then, surf gently but carry a big modem.


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