Nature Valley kicks off 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign

Nature Valley begins the 2011 Preserve the Parks CampaignAs we’ve mentioned on several occasions recently, Saturday kicked off National Parks Week here in the U.S. To help celebrate, Nature Valley, in conjunction with the National Parks Conservation Association, launched their 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign in the beautiful desert near Joshua Tree in California.

Nature Valley started the campaign last year after their customers expressed how much they loved the national parks. In 2010, the Preserve the Parks program raised $400,000 for the NPCA, with those funds going directly to protect national parks from a variety of threats. The 2011 edition of Preserve the Parks hopes to raise even more money, while also taking a more direct, active role in the preservation of these fantastic natural spaces.

This year, Preserve the Parks has a charismatic and charming spokesman to help spread the word about the campaign. Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer on the television show Lost, is an avid outdoorsman who also happens to love America’s national parks. He was on hand for the kickoff event this past weekend to not only help get the festivities underway, but to also get a little dirty too. Holloway joined a host of volunteers who went to work building trails and helping to protect the habitat of desert tortoises that inhabit the region around Joshua Tree.I had the opportunity to chat with Josh on several occasions throughout the day and came away quite impressed. This isn’t the case of a celebrity spokesperson slapping their name on a project and paying lip service to it. Josh truly does have a love for the outdoors and was eager to lend a hand in the actual physical work of the day. For most of the morning he had a shovel, rake, or other tool in his hand, and was doing his part alongside the rest of the volunteers who were there to take part in a restoration project.

Nature Valley beings 2011 Preserve the Parks campaignDespite the warm weather (temperatures approached 95 degrees Fahrenheit) the Nature Valley event drew an impressive turnout from volunteers. After a brief orientation about the area, including instructions on how to avoid stepping on a tortoise den, we were off on a mile long hike to the various work sites. Once there, we broke into teams that took on a variety of projects that included clearing trails of plants and other debris to more clearly define where to walk, as well as restructuring part of the landscape to allow water to flow naturally, without causing undue erosion. These simple efforts can go a long way toward protecting the area and ensuring that those who visit it can pass through without endangering the creatures that live there.

Nature Valley has a number of other similar events planned for the summer ahead, when the program will really kick into high gear. Those events will take place in Yellowstone, Acadia, Biscayne and several other national parks. Details on those events has yet to be completed, but you can watch the Preserve the Parks website for details on when they’ll be occurring and how you might be able to join in.

National Parks Week is a time that is dedicated to celebrating the spectacular natural beauty that exists inside America’s wilderness wonderlands. It is also a great time to acknowledge some of the threats that face the parks, such as environmental concerns, land management issues, lack of funding, and more. Organizations like Nature Valley and the NPCA recognize the importance of the parks on American culture and are working hard to protect them for future generations to enjoy as well. Programs such as the Preserve the Parks campaign are a perfect model of how businesses, non-profits, and grassroots activists can all work together to improve and protect the parks.

Nature Valley launches Preserve the Parks campaign
This trip was payed for by Nature Valley, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

Proposed casino near Gettysburg National Park denied license

A propsed casino near Gettysburg National Park was voted down this weekThe National Parks Conservation Association is applauding the decision of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to deny a license to a proposed casino near Gettysburg National Park. The Board felt that the gambling establishment, which would have opened less than a half-mile from the park, would be at odds with the solemn historical legacy and family friendly environment at Gettysburg.

The proposed casino sparked a great deal of debate in the communities surrounding the park. It was believed that it would bring a much needed boost to the local economy and provide new jobs, but opponents called the plan an insult to soldiers that fought and died there. The Mason Dixon Resort & Casino was to include 600 slot machines and 50 table games in its bid to lure visitors through its doors.

The decision comes as the park kicks off a series of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg is seen as the definitive turning point in that war, when Union forces turned back an invasion of Confederate troops, led by Robert E. Lee. It is believed that both sides combined for more than 51,000 casualties over the three day battle, which ultimately led to the North claiming victory over the South. President Lincoln traveled to the site some months later to dedicate a national cemetery there. His Gettysburg Address would become one of the most famous speeches in history.

So what do you think? Would a casino so close to Gettysburg diminish the historical events that happened there? Would it be an insult to those soldiers or is the need for economic development more important than that legacy? Personally, I’m glad that the casino was voted down. In my opinion, there are plenty of places to build a casino further away from a place that should be seen as hallowed ground.

[Photo credit: National Park Service]

Reminder: National Parks Week begins today

National Parks Week begins today!Despite the fact that it was nearly shut down by the budget crisis, National Parks Week kicks off today and will run through next Sunday, April 24th. In celebration, many parks in the system will host great events all week long, and all admission fees will be waived to the parks, and dozens of national monuments as well. To find a fee-free destination near you, click here.

Some of the special events scheduled to take place during Parks Week include a celebration of nature at NatureFest 2011 in the Congaree National Park, training junior rangers at the Explore, Learn Project in Shenandoah NP, and a birthday party for John Muir at the Muir Woods National Monument in California. Muir was an early proponent of the parks and instrumental in getting the U.S. Government to protect those lands.

In addition to the official park events, a number of affiliated organizations are also offering some great deals for visitors to the parks this week. For instance, the Grand Canyon Lodges are offering a “buy one, get one free” deal on their sunset tours of the West Rim, and there are discounts available on lodging near a variety of parks throughout the U.S. Click here to view a list of special offers and discounts that are available.

As for me, I’m heading to Joshua Tree to attend an event that is being sponsored by the National Parks Conservation Association and Nature Valley. I’ve never been to this particular park before, so I’m looking forward to the visit, during which I’ll be helping to preserve the habitat of the endangered desert tortoises that live there.

So? Do you have any plans to take advantage of National Parks Week? Where are you going?

U.S. Government averts shutdown in time to save National Parks Week

National Parks Week is still a go thanks to a last minute budget compromiseAs we all know by now, over the weekend U.S. lawmakers reached a budget deal that will keep the government in business through next Friday, April 15, as well as a tentative agreement on plan that will fund operations through the end of the fiscal year. Both houses are expected to debate the plan today and it is expected to be voted on, and approved, on Wednesday. That was all good news to the National Park Service, who were facing a complete closure of all of the national parks on the eve of a week dedicated to celebrating “America’s best idea.”

Next Saturday, April 16, marks the beginning of National Parks Week. The festivities will actually run through Sunday, April 24, and include free admission to more than a hundred parks and monuments across the country. (See a complete list here.) There are also more than 370 special activities planned across the park system for the week as well, all of which would have been canceled had a budget compromise not been reached.

The NPS isn’t the only one breathing a sigh of relief today. Many communities across the country rely on the national parks to help fuel their economies, and a shutdown could have spelled disaster for those places. The parks were actually shuttered as part of a government shutdown back in 1995 and 1996, and it is estimated that park-dependent communities lost an average of $14 million per day. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) estimated a shutdown this year would put that number closer to $30 million.

The fact that the parks remain open today is good news for travelers as well. Spring is a perfect time to visit many of the parks, which are coming alive after the long winter months. There is no doubt that many of us have trips planned to one or more of these fantastic places in the near future, and we don’t have to scramble to change or cancel those plans today. Barring any unforeseen problems with approving the budget this week, it seems that fans of the national parks can continue to enjoy their favorite destinations this year.

What effect would a government shutdown have on the national parks?

If the U.S. government shuts down, the national parks will go with them.As the battle over the U.S. budget continues to grind on, the country is starting to face the very real possibility of a government shutdown starting as early as next Friday, March 4th. What would that shutdown mean to America’s national parks and the communities that depend on them? If past history is any indication, it wouldn’t be good.

National parks continue to be very popular vacation destinations, hosting more than 300 million visitors system wide each year. There are national parks or monuments in 49 of the 50 U.S. states, many of which have a direct impact on local economies, generating as much as $13.3 billion in private-sector revenue each year. If a shutdown does occur, the government would shutter all but the most essential of operations, meaning that all the national parks, recreation areas, monuments, and so on would close as well.

That is exactly what happened back in 1995 and 1996 when the U.S. government closed for business for a total of 27 days. During those two closures, the National Park Service was reduced to just 1% of its usual staff and employed only four people in Washington D.C. The gates to major parks were closed and locked tight, and wire fences were strung up around national monuments. Many travelers canceled their trips, which left hotels and campground empty, costing park dependent communities an average of $14 million per day.

This doom and gloom scenario could play out again if Republicans and Democrats can’t find a way to compromise on the budget. They have until next Friday to pass a funding extension that would keep the government fully operational. If that doesn’t happen, be prepared to cancel any planned trips to the national parks in the near future.