Welcome to the January 2020’s “News From the Parks,” our monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.
Wolves in Yellowstone:
Twenty-five years ago this month, trucks carrying wolves arrived at the North Entrance and marked the beginning of the species’ restoration in Yellowstone. The wolves would spend the next ten weeks in pens, acclimating to their new surroundings. On March 21, 1995, they were released–making it possible to see a wild wolf in Yellowstone for the first time in nearly 70 years.
Wolves were intentionally eradicated from the region in the early 1900s to protect cattle, a dispute that still exists with ranchers today. From 14 wolves reintroduced in 1995, there are now 14 packs in the greater Yellowstone area.
An outbreak of the Norovirus at Yosemite National Park has triggered a massive clean-up and sanitation of concessionaire services provided by Aramark. Since early January, 170 people who visited or work at the park have reported Norovirus symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.
Norovirus spreads very easily, including through direct contact with an infected person, touching a surface or object contaminated with it, or eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated. Symptoms of norovirus usually begin 12–48 hours after exposure.
The virus appears to be eradicated, but the Park continues to undertake extensive cleaning and enhanced sanitation protocols.
Trespassing on Old Faithful:
Two men were recently sentenced for trespassing on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser. Eric Schefflin, 20, of Lakewood, Colorado, and Ryan Goetz, 25, of Woodstock, New York pleaded guilty to the violation of thermal trespass. On September 10, 2019, at about 8:30 p.m., employees and visitors witnessed the pair walking on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser and reported it to park dispatch.
Sentencing for each included:
10 days of incarceration
$540 in restitution
Five years of unsupervised probation
Five-year ban from Yellowstone National Park
Chief Ranger Sarah Davis said that “Visitors must realize that walking on thermal features is dangerous, damages the resource, and illegal. Law enforcement officers take this violation seriously. Yellowstone National Park also appreciates the court for recognizing the impact thermal trespass can have on these amazing features.”
The ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin, and there is scalding water just below the surface. Visitors should always remain on boardwalks and exercise extreme caution around thermal features.
Yellowstone Visitation Drops, Smoky Mountains Soars:
In other news from Yellowstone, visitation to Yellowstone the Park in 2019 was at the lowest level in five years. The park recorded over 4 million visits, a 2.3 percent decrease from 2018 and a 5.6 percent decrease from the record-breaking year in 2016. The decrease is likely partially due to the closing for the Fishing Bridge RV park for renovations. Fishing Bridge hosts 350 campsites, the only in the park with RV hookups. It’s scheduled to re-open for the 2021 season.
Meanwhile, a record 12,547,743 people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2019. That’s 1.1 million more than in 2018 at America’s most visited park.
The park’s three primary entrances near Gatlinburg, Townsend and Cherokee all had increased use, accounting for about two-thirds of the total park visitation, a news release from the National Park Service said. Secondary park entrances experienced tremendous growth, due primarily to the new section of the Foothills Parkway. More than 1 million visitors enjoyed the new scenic driving experience.
Sharks in Mammoth Cave:
Scientists were floored to have identified the remains of 15 to 20 different species of sharks deep in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, including part of the head of a great white-sized shark that’s partially protruding from a wall.
The sharks lived about 330 million years ago when much of North America was covered in ocean. Their remains were encased in sediment that eventually became the limestone where the cave formed.
Mammoth Cave scientists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey were mapping a remote part of the cave when they started seeing shark fossils.
The fossils were found in a remote part of the park that people can’t visit without special permission, but they don’t want to reveal the exact location.
Eventually, they’ll display the fossils in the park and online. But, the project is just getting started, and it’s difficult to study fossils in a cave without damaging the cave environment.
Thurston Lava Tube:
The Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park could reopen within a month if a final repair project is successful. Thurston Lava Tube was one of several attractions at the park that were closed indefinitely after a volcanic eruption which began in May 2018 and destroyed more than 700 homes on the Big Island.
Scientists and engineers wanted to confirm the tube was structurally sound after thousands of earthquakes rattled the park during the eruption.
The park must repair and bury an electrical line, which could take two to four weeks. When the tube reopens, there will be updates such as monitoring equipment to detect possible changes in cracks.
Restoring Native Plants:
A pair of U.S. senators believe restoring native plants in national parks around the country could help beautify and improve some of America’s most beloved public places. The effort is led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington. They’ve called the bill the Native Plant Species Pilot Program Act and say it would encourage the National Park Service to increase the use of native plant materials on land the service stewards. The use of native plants would benefit wildlife, human health, and the environment, Collins and Cantwell said.
Improving Lake Mead:
A $5.6 million pavement preservation project to improve roads within Lake Mead National Recreation Area will begin in early February.
The project will include cleaning, patching, resurfacing and re-marking roads and parking areas at Katherine Landing, Temple Bar, Eldorado Canyon, South Cove, and the park headquarters and warehouse complex.
The work is scheduled to take place during daylight hours on weekdays through April. During construction, visitors may experience short delays along the roadways, and parking areas may be closed for a limited time.
Funding for this project is provided by the Lake Mead National Recreation Area cyclic maintenance fund and Federal Lands Transportation Program. This is the second phase of the park’s overall pavement preservation project. Phase one, which was around $5 million, was completed in 2019.
Delta Air Lines and MLK Jr. NHS:
Delta Air Lines has committed $400,000 to the National Park Service to provide for upgrades and renovations at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta.
This contribution will significantly improve the lighting and electrical systems at the promenade and visitor center. The expected completion date is 2021.
In 2019, The Delta Air Lines Foundation provided a grant to the National Park Service to keep the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park open and operating during the federal government lapse in appropriations. Following Delta’s grant, the park saw a record number of visitors during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
Celebrating 100 Episodes:
We’d like to thank you for joining us for this, the 100th episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast. For nearly two years we’ve been bringing you stories from the parks, and we’re looking forward to many many more. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
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Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #BeanOutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.