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The Future of the National Park Service

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It is July 9th, 2057 A.D. The entrance to Olympic National Park is crowded and flurried. As tourists put on visors and sunblock to shade themselves from the sweltering sun, rangers mill about like ants, checking park passes, handing out maps, and counting three hundred nickels and five score of dimes to make sure the change added up to the admission fee.

“Have a good day,” says a ranger, as a car pulls out of the station, “and be sure to check out our new waterslides!”

“Did you hear ‘waterslides’?” asks Mr. Brown. “Or am I going deaf?”

“Waterslides?” exclaims Mrs. Brown simultaneously. “Nonsense — everyone knows that National Parks don’t have waterslides.”

Betty glances at the front cover of the park newspaper. “Um…” she hesitates, “this one does. Listen to this: ‘Olympic Leads the National Park Slides! The first park to open their beaches to waterslides, Olympic is raising money for a 4-D IMAX theater to show environmental films. Some will feature sea creatures, others will discuss the difficulties of conserving natural habitats, and a third will delve into the moss-covered ground of the rainforest to explore its main denizens: banana slugs. The Park Director, John Payne, believes that educating visitors about the unique biomes found in the park is essential to its survival.’ Sure… waterslides really add to the ‘unique biomes.’”

Tommy explodes with laughter. “Just look at this picture!” he says, pointing to the front cover of the map. It showed yellow, green, blue, red, clear, and orange slides twisting around each other.

“What a pity,” says Mrs. Brown, dryly. “I forgot to pack our swimsuits.”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” giggles Betty, adding to the joke. “This says that naïve tourists who forgot to pack their swimsuits can buy them at any ranger station for only $35 bucks a pop. They have pictures of IMAX screens on them.”

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One August morning, the staff of Gettysburg National Military Park assembles in the Visitor Center. A long table had been erected, with printed forms and pens arrayed in neat stacks, and a large cardboard box at one end. An election is being held. Visitors and staff alike are invited to fill out the forms and drop them through the slit in the top of the cardboard box.

Anna Lacewing and her parents enter the building.

“Good morning!” calls a ranger, in straw hat, brown shirt, and a million freckles. “Care to vote? Huge controversy this morning. One vote per person, please.”

The Lacewings approach the desk.

“Here’s a factsheet,” says the ranger. “We’re taking a survey to see whether people think it’s a better idea to have battle reenactments or historical video games.”

The leaflet, written by a programmer from MIT, Mr. Baethan Ordinatrum, pro-pounds the greatness of video games. Mrs. Lacewing chuckles as she reads aloud the arguments stated in the brochure:

#1. Video games are not weather dependent. They cannot be rained out; hail, snow, and wind cannot affect them; the National Park Service cannot be blamed for visitors’ sunburns.

#2. The cleanup process after a battle reenactment requires hiring many people to collect litter (consisting mainly of park newspapers and toy soldiers). Furthermore, wild animals may consume the food dropped by tourists before the cleanup crews can get to it.

#3. A set timeframe is not necessary; tourists do not have to coordinate their entire vacation around the weekend of the event. Planning for these reenactments is difficult for rangers and visitors. The campgrounds overflow; the weather is uncertain; someone catches a cold at the wrong time. In addition, reenactments are responsible for Gettysburg National Park’s lack of ample funding. The visitor centers run out of T-shirts, army hats, badges, patches, pins, bags, maps, and touristy paraphernalia, thereby sacrificing much of their annual income.

#4. Video games come out cheaper than reenactments. Perhaps installing the machines costs something at the beginning, but once that is covered, there are no additional fees. Costumed soldiers do not have to be paid; booths or army camps do not have to be set up. The video games will even pay for themselves, if a fee of a few quarters is mandatory. As an added bonus, once the games are installed, they require no staff or maintenance.

#5. Battle reenactments attract enormous crowds. Nobody likes having their view blocked by other people. But no one can be landed with a bad view of the proceedings if they’re playing a video game!


#6. The park’s natural abundance of wildlife is often frightened by the noise of the cannons and guns being fired. White-tailed deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, and other creatures are alarmed at the sounds of battle, and flee.


#7. Reenactments, unlike video games, cause a spike in tourists over one weekend, with crowds dwindling over the rest of the year.

#8. Video games actively engage students’ attention — they are unable to chat amongst each other or operate cell phones whilst on a field trip. Children’s loss of interest in historical events is mainly owing to the unsuitability of the activities they are offered.

#9. Recent studies suggest that video games improve hand-and-eye coordination.

#10. Southerners become wrapped up in the battle and refuse to acknowledge the Union’s ultimate victory. They have also been known to disrupt the proceedings with rebel yells. A surprising number of Southerners don’t seem to comprehend that the Civil War is over.

When the ballots are tallied, only three votes are pro-reenactment. They were cast by the Lacewings.

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Every year, Liza Marten and her dad go scuba diving at Biscayne National Park. Liza loves watching the sea stars, corals, anemones, and fish that constitute the reefs. As they rise to the surface, Liza spots something unusual on the shore.

“What is that monstrosity?” she cries.

“I have no clue,” says Mr. Marten. “Let’s go see.”

The two swim inland until they can see the “monstrosity.” It is an oddly shaped building, mainly blue, with green and pink patches. As the Martens approach it, they can distinguish the outlines of five-foot fish, sea stars, and crabs decorating its surface. The roof is wavy, and the walls have long blue tubes radiating from them. Huge, rotating disco balls make the crevices glow different colors. The beach is packed with striped and spotted chairs, bright umbrellas, and sunburned tourists.

Finally, Liza is able to read the words printed atop the building: “Coral Reef Hotel.”

After the Martens finish their diving, they go to investigate.

“Reservations?” asks the clerk, who is dressed in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt with a hibiscus pattern.

“No, but we were wondering why this hotel is here?” says Mr. Marten.

“Ah,” says the clerk, “it’s to attract tourists. See, the Everglades get all the visitors, and Biscayne is left in the dust. People aren’t educated about the precious coral reefs, so they don’t care about them. This” — indicating the surroundings with a wide sweep of his hand — “is intended to improve the situation. There are fourteen Olympic-size pools, ten cafeterias, nineteen thousand beach chairs, a movie theater, a craft room where kids can make foam jellyfish, sea urchins, and starfishes, and, over there, a kiosk staffed by volunteer park rangers, who give expert advice on exploring the ocean.”

Liza looks around. It seems like the visitors are more concerned with their smoothies and swimsuits than with Biscayne. Only a handful of kids are in the craft room. The one lackadaisical ranger in the kiosk is eating sandwiches and fidgeting with some new technological gadget.

“Does it work?” asks Mr. Marten. “Are more people exploring the reef than were previously?”

“Not exactly,” says the clerk, scratching his head, “— but they’re having such a good time that they care about saving the reef — if it goes, they can’t keep coming back to this hotel!”

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Suzie Barrer and her mother climb into the “Great Jumpin’ Geysers!” ride for the eighth time in succession.

“This is great, isn’t it, Mom?” pipes six-year-old Suzie. “Yellowstone is a great park! I like it much better than Grand Teton, where all you get to do was look at scenery. This is fun!”

The ride starts. The small, geyser-shaped carriage whirrs delicately through the scenery, past animatronic bison and elk roaming in painted grasslands and forests. Suddenly, the track starts wheeling and dipping, rising and falling, until, suddenly, a small fountain sprinkles water on everything.

Suzie’s mother doesn’t especially like getting her glasses speckled, but the little girl squeals with delight.

“Haven’t we ridden this enough?” asks Mrs. Barrer, as they get off.

“I guess so,” says Suzie reluctantly. “Let’s go ride the wolves!”

So they go to the “Pack Promenade,” a wooden building built to look like a Wild West storefront, with a wolf painted above the doorway. After paying $6.00, they each mount a plastic wolf, which moves gently through the scenery, ending with a thrilling, 10 mph chase through the woods, over a mountain, and through a canyon.

“Hey, Suzie,” says Mrs. Barrer, finally, “let’s go see a real geyser.”

“Do we have to?” asks Suzie. “I wanted to ride the merry-go-round.”

“Old Faithful erupts in about twenty minutes,” says Mrs. Barrer. “And we already rode the merry-go-round seven times.”

“All right,” sighs Suzie resignedly, slipping her hand into her mother’s.

The Director of Yellowstone had introduced amusement park rides as part of her campaign to improve the park. A Major Barbara with modern improvements, she thought that it was corrupt to obtain pecuniary support from oil companies, coal magnates and other immoral industries. After all, they were wrecking the environment — wasn’t it hypocritical to take their money?

Yet Yellowstone needed money, and fast. Quickly, she devised a plan: the introduction of rides would generate as much money as three sponsors. She knew that they would detract from the experience, but by hiding them in a corner, she nevertheless expected to be able to draw people’s attention to the park’s natural splendor.

However, Mammoth Hot Springs now gets three visitors per year, Old Faithful’s crowd has dwindled to about 25 people a day, and Morning Glory Pool is deserted. When she first learned these statistics, the Director was shocked, surprised, and bewildered. There was little she could do, however, apart from upping the ticket prices.

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It is December in Glacier National Park. A full moon is shining; the mountains stand “transfigured in the silver flood.” The bighorn sheep have descended to the valleys, and the snowshoe hares are attired in white fur. Unfortunately, the hibernating grizzly bears, ensconced in their dens, aren’t getting very good sleep.

Loud cries of “Yaaaaaaaah-Hoooooooooooooo!” bounce off the mountains, entering every crevice and echoing through the caves. A loud recording of Christmas carols played on a twangy banjo seconds the motion. Somewhere nearby, the powerful whir of machinery comes from a large, barn-shaped building.

Ski lifts zigzag up every hill in view, running day and night. Strips of trees have been cleared to make the slopes. Three 24-hour cafes built in the valleys serve hot chocolate, coffee, and pastries. Several marmots haunt the outside decks, hoping to pick up crumbs. Ski rental shops advertise that they only charge $45 an hour.

Supposedly, the proceeds from this skiing frenzy go “to fund a dream,” as the Kalispel Chronicle put it. According to ranger Bill, a trolley will someday wind up and down every mountain in the park, enabling visitors to get the views without making the climb. Tickets will cost $45 dollars, but the experience (in Bill’s opinion) will pay back. He expects the trolley to be in working order by the year 2080.

As dawn begins to brighten the horizon, a party of four college-age boys descends the slopes. Each kid has deep purple bags under their eyes and is yawning furtively.

“Say, I’m tired, aren’t you, Chuck?” comments one of them, taking off his Gore-Tex-lined baseball cap to mop his brow.

“Nah — that was fun. Sleepy already, Josh? I say, let’s do it again tonight,” re-plies the one addressed as Chuck, tossing back his long locks á la Charles the First.

“What’s your problem, Josh — not cool enough?” laughs another, finishing his bear claw in a gargantuan bite, and licking his fingers.

“Yah, Bob — cuz you’re the pink of perfection,” says the fourth, who is alternately guzzling hot coffee and burning his tongue.

The skiers enter their yurt, throw themselves on their cots, and promptly sleep until noon.

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On the whole, the National Park Service is satisfied with their efforts to gain tourists and intends to continue their practices. In fact, the NPS intends to carry on its improvements in other parks. Their schedule for next year reads:

HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK — Not for the faint of heart! Next January, park supervisors intend to construct a swaying rope bridge over the dormant volcano’s crater. Test your mettle for a mere $10!

SAND DUNES NATIONAL MONUMENT: This April, be prepared for a Saharan adventure on the Sand Dunes. We’re importing a herd of dromedary camels for visitors to ride. Long flowing Arabian robes complimentary with rental. Only $700 a day!

LYNDON B. JOHNSON NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK — By August of 2058, visitors will enjoy riding an animatronic bucking longhorn around the pastures where LBJ’s own cattle roamed, branding cowboy hats, and making tinfoil spurs for just $20 apiece.

DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT: Take a Fossil Home with You! In October, the park opens for a paleontology party! Diggers may take home one complimentary fascinating fossil (excluding any stray professors). Tickets on sale for a paltry $3,000! Hurry up and buy now — this great offer won’t last long!



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