Sometimes you'd be surprised how much you can
accomplish if you only try. You just might not see the results
immediately. This is as true when we're talking about keeping our
favorite parks open as it is in any other matter that is important to
If you live in a state that is considering closing some or all of its
parks, there are several things you can do to help prevent closures.
These suggestions are applicable to local and national parks, too.
1. Let your governor, legislators, county commissioner, parks boards,
and other elected or appointed officials know your opinions about what
services you think should be cut and what services are important to you.
If you think parks should be closed, tell them. If not, be courteous and
clear and tell them why you want them to stay open.
Even better, give them
one or more reasonable solutions. They aren't recommending park
closures just to make people miserable; they may
believe they don't have any other options. Be creative and suggest some
But what can one person do, you ask?
A bunch, especially when combined with enough other individuals who
wondered how one person can effectively change something.
Here are two examples of how original government park proposals were modified when the
public voiced enough opposition.
Early morning mist on Lake Raven at Huntsville SP
in Texas (January, 2010)
I mentioned in the
last entry that the USFS wanted to
decrease the discount that folks with Senior (over age 62) and Access
(disability) passes to the national parks and national recreation areas
receive at Forest Service campgrounds. Last week the proposal was
published in the RV Travel internet newsletter we receive every
Saturday. In today's edition of the newsletter the editor announced that
the Forest Service changed its mind:
The response from the public--more than 4,000 comments--universally
opposing the rate changes, convinced [Forest Service Chief] Tidwell that
the proposed changes were not the best way to address services provided
by private contractors at Forest Service recreation sites.
"Each year more than 175 million people enjoy recreational opportunities
on National Forests and Grasslands, and that includes more than 15
million visits to our campgrounds," said Forest Service Chief Tom
Tidwell. "Particularly in these difficult economic times, it is very
important to maintain affordable access to our National Forests and
Grasslands, giving people easy ways to recreate and find respite in the
read the whole article
Lush Guinavah Campground in the national forest in Logan Canyon, UT
I can't believe as few as 4,000 comments changed their
minds! No, I didn't comment because I wasn't strongly opposed to the
idea. Funds need to be raised somehow. This is one instance where I
think it's only fair that the people who use these services (like Jim
and me) pay for them rather than increasing taxes on everyone. But I'm
not complaining that the fees aren't going up, since so many
other fees are.
Here's another example of how public opinion can matter:
Last May California's governor proposed closing 220 of 278 state parks to
help reduce the $20-billion-dollar state deficit but backed off after extensive
protests from residents and visitors. More recently he recommended expanding oil
drilling off the Santa Barbara coast to provide up to $140 million for state
parks in place of state funding. I'm sure some folks will protest that, too!
Gorgeous coastal view from the Miwok
in the Marin Headlands near San Francisco (May, 2003)
In addition, the California State Parks Association is working diligently to
gather enough signatures to add an
initiative on the November state ballot for
voters to decide if there will be a new $18 annual fee imposed on all vehicle
The proposed State Park Access Pass would help provide funds for the state parks and
(I think I read) allow residents free entrance to
2. Visit the parks you care about regularly and
purchase an annual pass, if one is available.
OK, this suggestion will cost you some dollars but I think those dollars are
well-spent. You'll more than get your money's worth.
"America the Beautiful" National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands
are a good way to start. They give you and your family access for one year to any Federal
recreational sites (National Park, Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of
Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Land Reclamation) that charge an entry or
standard amenity fee.
Costs for these passes range from free for volunteers who
give more than 500 hours of their time and for people with permanent
disabilities . . . to $10 for a lifetime pass for folks over age 62
(below right) .
. . to $80/year for
people under the age of 62 (below left). The passes are per passenger vehicle, not per
Do you have any idea of how many sites this allows you to enter at no
additional charge?? It would take a long time to visit them all! (Enjoying
most of them -- not just saying I was there -- is on my "bucket
list" of things to do before I die.)
According to the NPS
website, the National Park System comprises
392 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state (except Delaware),
the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin
Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military
parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation
areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.
What fun to try to visit as many sites as possible in one's lifetime! Did
you know that some foreign visitors have seen more of our national parks than
many U.S. citizens have??
Jim poses on the South Rim of the Grand
Canyon in March, 2001. The next day
we ran down S. Kaibab Trail to the bottom, over the river
to Phantom Ranch,
and hiked back up the Bright Angel Trail. There was too
much snow to go up to the North Rim.
Then consider all the state parks . . . some of those may be
closer to your home. They offer many opportunities for weekend or vacation
stays in campgrounds, cabins, and/or lodges, as well as scenic places to run,
hike, cycle, fish, watch birds, and pursue other recreational activities. Your
entry fees will be put to good use and may help keep the parks open.
Ditto any local or regional parks.
I don't know how many states offer annual passes. The only one we've
purchased is the one I already mentioned in Texas, where we like to spend
several weeks or months in the
winter. That state has about a hundred parks and historical sites, not as many
as California but offering just as much diversity.
currently enjoying warm spring days at Brazos Bend State Park near the Gulf in
southeastern Texas. BBSP has the distinction of having sold the most annual passes
of any of the parks in the state system so far this year -- $20,000
more, at the present time (at $60-75 a pop per passenger vehicle). You can bet
they are proud of that fact! Stats like that pretty much ensure the viability
of this park if others are ever on the chopping block.
Note the big sign re: TX State Parks
passes in the Brazos Bend office at the entrance to the park.
Daily, per person entry fees are usually $4-5 at parks in Texas so visitors,
especially couples and families, can recoup the cost of a pass after only a few
visits to any of the 100-odd parks around the state. In addition, folks with passes get four ½-off
coupons for camping and other discounts within the park system. The Texas parks
pass is a real bargain for Jim and me.
Some regional and local parks, such as my old stomping grounds in the
eastern Atlanta metro area (Stone Mountain Park), also offer annual passes.
Consider buying one or more park passes for your own family and purchasing
others for gifts to people you know will enjoy them. I think it's money well
spent on several levels.
Any other activities you pay for within the parks -- such as camping and
lodging fees, food and beverages, boat and equipment rentals, unique transportation like
a sky lift or miniature train ride,
special programs or shows, gift shop items, and other goods and services that
aren't included in the entry fee -- all help to support the parks and
provide wonderful memories for you and your family or friends.
3. Volunteer in as many ways and for as much time
as you can.
As park budgets shrink, remaining personnel can use all the help we can
give them! I think that parks are as good a place as any to voluntarily
share your time and expertise.
The sky is the limit in this regard. Consider what skills you have and
try to match them to the needs of a particular park. Many parks have volunteer
coordinators that can facilitate this. If no one is in charge of
volunteers, find the appropriate employee in charge of what you'd like
(visitors center, headquarters/office, maintenance, special activities, etc.) and
proceed from there.
Jim (in yellow cap) helps repair the Appalachian
Trail near Roanoke, VA. (May, 2004)
Examples of volunteer activities that Jim and I have done at all manner
of parks are trail construction and maintenance (from local parks to the
Appalachian National Scenic Trail, above), cleaning up debris after storm
damage, picking up trash left by inconsiderate slobs, working in the
visitor center, being campground hosts, assisting visitors with
information, folding maps, painting and erecting information,
directional, and cautionary signs, and other tasks that assist
under-paid and over-worked park
Volunteering at a park can be as structured as being an official
interpreter, naturalist, story-teller, entertainer, enactor,
cartographer, or artist -- or as simple as unofficially picking up litter and
fallen branches on a hike, or notifying rangers about recent deadfall
they haven't yet discovered.
You might be able to help save the demise or deterioration of a park in this manner.
Be creative and figure out what you can do to help.
A leaf-covered trail at Explore Park near Roanoke,
VA (November, 2008)
To our delight,
Jim and I have played a small part in keeping the beautiful wooded
single track trails open at Explore Park
(above) in the Roanoke, Virginia area. The city and county can't afford to continue to
operate it and the individual from out of state who has an option to
develop it into a destination resort can't get the necessary funding during this recession --
so the park's visitor center, restaurant, historical buildings, and
special activities were shut down a couple years ago to save money.
The great thing
is, about ten committed volunteers (including us in the weeks when we're in town) became
involved in maintaining the trails so they can remain open to runners,
hikers, and cyclists. One volunteer is in charge of this group. He
assigns the rest of us to periods of time for which we are responsible
for trail maintenance; he periodically reports to one of the few remaining employees
who keeps tabs on park property while it's in this odd state of limbo.
Segment 8 on the Colorado Trail (August, 2006)
Jim and I also try to help out at other local, state,
and national parks and forests around the country when we visit them. Often
it's informal and no one even knows what we've done. We do it because we
OUR TRIAL RUN AS CAMPGROUND HOSTS IN TEXAS
We have enjoyed several Texas state parks so much that we
have considered applying to become volunteer campground hosts at one or more of them
That's one good way we
can help the state keep its parks open and score
free camping in return for some work (our motive isn't entirely
Texas isn't "our" state but it's the
one where we
prefer to camp during the winter -- so we have a personal
interest in keeping its parks open.
"Winter" at Lake Livingston State Park, TX (February, 2010)
Since we move around fairly often to go to races we hadn't decided where or
when we might want to stay put long enough to
make it worthwhile to apply to be campground hosts or "work campers."
There are opportunities at all levels of parks, all over the country, so
simply deciding where and when isn't really so simple. Other obvious choices
for us besides Texas in the winter/early spring would be McDowell Mountain or another regional park in the
Phoenix area in December and January, or the national forest campgrounds
near Silverton, Colorado in the summer (camping is free there, so I
guess hosts receive a stipend).
We've heard from veteran campground hosts that to land
good volunteer jobs at prime locations and months (i.e., winter in a
warm spot, summer in a cool one), prospective hosts have to apply early
and be able to stay several months. Each park has different requirements
and expectations. Having a variety of skills and a good work ethic also
This month we "accidentally" became campground hosts. We consider it a
good trial run and a foot in the door if we decide to apply for another
position next winter.
When we arrived at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston at the
beginning of March it was our first visit to the park. We came in as regular paid campers for six days. After that
we intended to drive to Decatur, Alabama
so Jim could run the Delano 12-Hour Run, then spend a
couple weeks in the Atlanta area to run a 50K race before heading back
to our house near Roanoke.
We want to stay south as long as possible until the Roanoke area warms
During a walk through the two campground loops on our
second day at Brazos Bend I noticed something odd: two of the
four campground host sites were empty and it was already three days into
the month. That made me curious, since
springtime is very busy at this large, popular park.
Wide multi-use trail along the southern side of Elm
Lake at Brazos Bend SP
in southern Texas (March, 2010)
Jim and I started
asking questions when we introduced ourselves to the hosts in our loop. Ben and Bev,
a retired couple about our age who have been
hosts for several years at various campgrounds around the country,
described their responsibilities at Brazos Bend and encouraged us to
talk with the park's volunteer coordinator.
They were so enthusiastic -- and the weather
report for the Delano race was so much colder than it was at Brazos
Bend! -- that Jim decided he could easily give up that race.
Let's see: hang out in the warm sunshine with cool alligators and 35
miles of trails at Brazos
Bend for the whole month or head north in a few days to probable colder, rainy weather
and a race that Jim wasn't all that eager to run . . .
Tough decision for a couple of sunbirds, right??
Cody-the-campground-host-dog wants a shirt and hat, too!
The park superintendent, office manager, and volunteer
coordinator were all happy to hear we were interested in volunteering
for the next three weeks. The middle week was the very busy Spring Break
week and they were
clearly short on campground hosts to handle the mass of humanity they
expected to visit the park for most of those nine days (yep, it was
packed with families).
Plus they thought Jim's carpentry skills would be
useful for an addition they plan to build at headquarters and my
painting skills would help Ben finish a bunch of signs he was working on
all by himself.
Jim works on signs in the paint shop, above. I enjoyed the
details (painting the routed
letters). Jim preferred painting the backgrounds with a
putting the signs back out along the trails and
roads, as I'm shown doing below.
filled out our applications, gave permission for a criminal record
check, received loaner volunteer shirts and a hat Jim can keep, and
enjoyed our last free weekend before beginning "work" the next Monday morning.
Work camping is a win-win situation for both the volunteers and the park or
We win because we get to enjoy the beautiful park and fantastic
spring weather for almost a month instead of having to leave before
Spring Break (we didn't have CG reservations then and it was full).
As campground hosts we get "free" camping for three weeks and would have
gotten more if we could have stayed longer. Hosts can stay up to ten
months at Texas State Parks, then must move on. An average stay is
three months at each park.
Regular campsites with water
and electric are $20/night at Brazos Bend; the four host sites
are the only ones with sewers. That eliminates the hassle of moving
the RV to use the dump station or hauling around messy Blue Boys (~
6-10-gallon containers on wheels in which you can haul black or gray water
behind your vehicle to a nearby dump station).
Brazos Bend Park "wins" because it's getting a bunch of work out of us
that it doesn't have to compensate in salaries and benefits. The Texas
State Park system requires host couples to put in 25 hours of work per
week (together, not each). Like Ben and Bev, however, we quickly
discovered that it's easy to do at least ten more hours a week than that
and still have plenty of free time.
Our Cameo looks right at home in
a spacious camp host site at Brazos Bend.
Our extra hours are truly voluntary. It didn't take long for us to
take some ownership in "our" park and just naturally want to do more for
it, such as picking up trash on all of our walks and runs.
The only downsides
have been reporting to work earlier than we prefer on Monday through
Thursday mornings (we easily modified our hours so we could sleep later!) and
having to hear some of the inevitable "office politics" that occur in
every organization (is anyone ever satisfied with the folks in charge?).
And Jim's a little disappointed because the carpentry work hasn't
Other than that, we love our new responsibilities.
- We get to explore all areas of the park, including trails too wet to be
open to the public. (It's a lot of fun to drive the ATVs, shown below. I'm surprised to admit
that. I hate recreational ATVs on remote trails as much as I despise snowmobiles.)
Ben (L) and Jim admire one of the signs we painted
and replaced on the trail. Or maybe they're
discussing that big fire ant hill at the base of
the right post. You don't want to mess with Texas fire ants!
- We can take a lot of pride in keeping the trails, picnic areas,
and roadways clean.
- We get to interact with visitors on the trails and in the
campgrounds. I get lots of questions when I wear my volunteer shirt
on walks around the various lakes.
- We get to paint and put up nice routed wooden signs all over the
park, then run, walk, or ride past them and smile because we know they
are a product of our labor.
- We get to know the other volunteers, several of the more
interesting rangers (oh, the stories!), and some inner workings of the
And we get to see alligators in their natural habitat every day:
Three 'gators enjoy the warm spring sunshine along the
trail around Elm Lake at Brazos Bend SP.
The largest is at least ten feet long. On cool,
cloudy days they stay in the water to keep warmer.
But I digress . . . I'll show you lots more photos of the alligators
and BBSP in two or more subsequent entries.
If we were here longer we'd be trained to work a variety of tasks in the
Nature Center and at headquarters. I'd enjoy that. Every park affords a
variety of host and volunteer opportunities so skills we learn at one
can easily transfer to others.
It has been a good education and we have some great stories to tell! Now
that we have some experience and a good reference from Brazos Bend, we
will submit our application to the woman who coordinates campground
hosts for the whole Texas State Parks system and perhaps end up as hosts next
winter at one of our choices of parks.
SAVE OUR PARKS
In this series about park closures I hope I've inspired readers to at least think
about the fiscal problems facing many of our public parks at the local,
state, and national level.
Find out what's going on in your own area or the places you like to
visit around the country. Even if none of these parks appear to be in jeopardy of being
closed, they are still probably in need of your advocacy. Think about ways you
can help support them that may cost little or no $$$ but can make a
Let's hope the proverbial sun doesn't set
permanently at Patagonia Lake SP in Arizona. (January, 2010)
You do have a vested interest in parks, even if it's just helping to
sustain your local economy so your taxes don't go up!
And if you enjoy their beauty, solitude, forests, lakes, trails,
lodging/campground, or other features as much as we do . . . you
have a lot to lose if they are closed.
Next entry: why we like the Texas State Parks so
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil