Largest dam removal in U.S. history begins at Olympic National Park

This weekend the largest dam removal project in U.S. history will begin on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park, located in the state of Washington. The three-year process to dismantle both the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams will free the river for the first time in nearly a century and is expected to have a restorative effect on the park’s ecosystem, as well as an economic impact on the surrounding communities.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the removal of the two dams is expected to boost the salmon population in the river from an estimated 3000 now to nearly 400,000 once the project is complete. Researchers believe that they’ll see the return of all five species of Pacific salmon to the river, as native species return to their previous habitats. Those fish provide important nutrients and resources for more than 130 species of both aquatic and terrestrial wildlife in the region, including other fish, bears, and eagles. Those populations are expected to thrive as well, once the salmon numbers increase to their natural levels.

The benefits to the region don’t end there however, as the removal of the dams is also expected to bring new economic opportunities as well. The dramatic increase in fish populations should lure in both sport and commercial fishermen, and the newly opened 70-mile river corridor will offer fantastic paddling too. The NPCA estimates that the Elwha River restoration project could bring as many as 500,000 new visitors to the area on an annual basis, translating into an additional $57 million per year in the local economy.

As the dam removal process gets underway, conservationists and fans of the national parks have kicked off an official dam-breaking festival known as Celebrate Elwha. Over the next few days, the festival will host a number of music and art events, as well as several guest speakers, as the Park Service, the NPCA, and the community celebrate this important step towards restoring the natural environment at Olympic.

This is such an important move in creating a healthier environment in the park and the wilderness around it. I applaud everyone involved in getting these dams removed and opening up the river once again. If you’ve ever visited the Elwha River valley in the past, you will definitely want to schedule a return trip in a few years time, as it is likely to be a very different place in the years ahead.

National Park Service prepares for its second century

Last week the National Park Service celebrated its 95th anniversary. Over the past nine-and-a-half decades, the NPS has been protecting and managing some of America’s most amazing wild places, with the charge of ensuring that those places are “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” That hasn’t always been an easy task however, and now more than ever, the parks face incredible challenges. Yesterday, the Park Service released a comprehensive plan that will chart its course over the next five years, leading up to its centennial in 2016, and beyond.

In that plan, which is entitled A Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement, the Park Service challenges its employees and partners to work together towards a common goal, namely preparing the NPS for a second 100 years of service. The plan outlines 36 different areas of opportunity for the Park Service in which they can more fully engage visitors in the parks, continue to preserve America’s favorite places, improve educational outreach, and become more efficient as an organization.

A Call To Action identifies a variety of goals for the Park Service, including creating a “State of the Park” report for each of the 50 States, studying the economic impact that parks have on surrounding communities, and finding ways to enhance cultural diversity across the entire system. The report also acknowledges the importance of addressing the impact of climate change and establishing a national parks endowment, amongst other things. In short, it is an ambitious, important outline of where the Park Service wants to go by the end of its first century, so it can be better prepared to serve in its second.

The National Parks Conservation Association, was quick to praise the Park Service plan as well. The organization’s President, Tom Kiernan, called A Call To Action “a very strong and important step towards ensuring our spectacular national park landscapes, wildlife, and American history and heritage are better protected for future generations.” But the NPCA says that for this plan to succeed, it needs the support of Congress and the President. With a $600 million annual budget shortfall, the Park Service obviously faces serious difficulties in completing its mission on a yearly basis.

U.S. national parks continue to be very popular travel destinations for both Americans and foreign visitors alike. With this plan, the Park Service has set its sights on the future, while identifying its biggest challenges and ways to overcome them. Those challenges, at times, can seem very daunting, but the Park Service, the NPCA, and their partners are prepared to take them on.

National Parks Conservation Association rallies public support for park funding

The National Parks Conservation Association wants the U.S. government to stop cutting critical funding to national parks – and apparently many Americans agree. Earlier this week, the NPCA announced that it had garnered more than 105,000 signatures from its supporters asking Congress to put an end to budget cuts to the National Park Service, asserting that those cuts that are endangering the future of parks.

Back in May, the NPCA kicked off its National Parks Protection Project which was designed to educate members of Congress and the American public about the importance of proper funding for the national parks. When that initiative got underway, an online petition was also included, with the goal of attaining 100,000 signatures asking the government to stop slashing funding to the parks. After all, the NPCA points out, the Park Service’s budget is just one-thirteenth of one percent of the total federal budget.

For that relatively small amount of money, the national parks generate quite a return on the investment. Not only does that funding go toward protecting and promoting the most amazing park system in the world, it also has an important impact on the communities that surround those parks. It is estimated that the national parks are responsible for contributing more than $13 billion to local economies each year while also creating nearly 270,000 private-sector jobs.

Now, just over three months after the petition went online, the NPCA has not only met its goal, but exceeded it. In fact, the organization’s president, Tom Kiernan, has said “This is by far the most successful petition drive we’ve ever had – in nearly 100 years of operations – and it’s time for Congress to take notice of how many people have joined this effort.”

I tend to agree with Kiernan. The national parks are a fantastic resource and one that we need to protect for future generations to enjoy as well. Unfortunately, budget cuts have made those efforts incredibly challenging. But considering what the parks give back to us, both tangibly and intangibly, perhaps it is time to stop looking solely at the bottom line.

Samantha Brown joins Nature Valley’s Preserve The Parks initiative

Popular television personality and travel expert Samantha Brown has joined forces with Nature Valley in an effort raise awareness of their wonderful National Parks Project. This program, now in its second year, works to raise funds for the National Parks Conservation Association, an organization dedicated to ensuring that America’s national parks are protected for future generations to enjoy as well.

This year, Nature Valley will donate at least $400,000 to the NPCA with the potential of up to an additional $100,000 coming through a consumer outreach program at Customers are encouraged to visit that website and enter UPC codes from specially marked packages of Nature Valley products. For each UPC code entered, the company will add another 10¢ to their already generous donation.

Brown, who is a big proponent of the national parks, is the latest celebrity to publicly support Nature Valley’s efforts. She has called the parks “some of the world’s greatest treasures,” and has lauded them for being fantastic travel destinations that don’t require visitors to journey to some far flung, exotic place to experience their beauty.

For those planing on visiting a park this summer, Brown has some good tips to consider before they go. She recommends calling the park, or visiting its website, ahead of time to get information on any activities and educational programs that they have to offer and adjusting your scheduling accordingly to take advantage of them. She also says that when visiting a park, be sure to dress appropriately by leaving the flip-flops behind and donning a good pair of hiking shoes. Tossing a spare jacket into your daypack is always a good idea as well, as the weather can change quickly in the backcountry.Samantha also notes that the parks are especially great destinations for young travelers, offering up experiences and memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. For families traveling with small children she suggests creating fun quizzes about what they see and do in the park during their visit. Those quizzes not only reinforce the experience, but they also helps to pass the time in the car on the way home as well.

Brown says adventure travelers will find plenty to love in the parks as well. She points out that they are a great place to challenge yourself physically with many of the parks offering fantastic opportunities for paddlers and backpackers. Those who want to take it a bit easier can hike shorter trails or rent a bike to experience the park at their own pace. Either way, they are great destinations for anyone looking to get outside, take in some fresh air, and enjoy a little physical activity this summer.

Find out more about the Preserve the Parks project at the official website, where you’ll also discover ways that you can get involved in helping to protect the parks. Nature Valley is also giving away a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park, which you can sign up to win as well.

New study finds national parks at risk

The National Parks Conservation Association released a comprehensive report yesterday that paints a grim picture for the future of the national parks in the U.S. The report, which is entitled “The State of America’s National Parks,” examines a number of economic and environmental threats to the parks and is the result of more than a decade of research. The non-profit NPCA also calls on the Obama Administration to address those threats while developing a comprehensive plan for the future, ahead of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The report, which can be read in it’s entirety here, identifies a number of challenges to the future of America’s national parks. The threats, which are both old and new, include pollution, invasive species, climate change, and continued funding shortfalls, amongst others. The NPCA goes on to say that many of these threats are already having a real and dramatic impact on the parks. During their research they found that 63% of the parks surveyed had issues with air quality to some degree or another. Others were found to have poor water quality as well, while a staggering 95% of the parks assessed had lost at least one plant or animal species over the course of the past ten years.

According to the NPCA, the largest threats to the parks, and their natural resources, stem from two sources – human activity and climate change. In the case of the former, the development of lands surrounding the park is changing the natural habitats of wildlife and contaminating both the air and the water. It may be the latter that has the most lasting effect however, as the report cites threats to everything from the redwoods of Sequoia National Park in California to the coastlines of Katmai in Alaska, as being dramatically impacted by the changing climate.It isn’t all doom and gloom however, as the report also spotlights success stories in several parks as well. For instance, a comprehensive effort to remove non-native species, including horses, rats, and pigs, from the Channel Islands has helped the native fox species there to bounce back in numbers. Similarly, a “vessel management plan” in Glacier Bay National Park has been very successful in protecting the marine mammals that live there as well. The NPCA says that these examples show that when “National Park Service staff have sufficient financial support, up-to-date scientific information, and adequate training,” they can do positive things.

In order to protect these vital natural resources, the NPCA is calling upon the Obama Administration to create a plan for the long term management of the parks. That plan, they contend, must address the threats to the parks and create a system for monitoring the quality of the air and water found within their boundaries. The organization is also asking the President to issue an Executive Order that will commit federal resources to preparing the parks for their second one hundred years and beyond. The NPCA believes that can only be achieved by fully funding the Park Service to equip them with all the tools necessary to address these threats properly.

Considering the attendance numbers over the past few years, it is evident that Americans recognize and appreciate the value of their national parks. Hopefully this report will send the wake-up call that is necessary to ensure that those amazing natural spaces will be around in another hundred years so that new generations of Americans can enjoy them too.

[Photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association]