By Jason Epperson
Welcome to the December 2019’s “News From the Parks,” our new monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.
Welcome our 62nd Park:
It’s official: The United States now boasts 62 congressionally designated National Parks. New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument became White Sands National Park. On Friday, December 20, the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which includes a provision that re-designates White Sands. White Sands National Monument was established on January 18, 1933, by President Herbert Hoover. In addition to containing the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, the park is home to the globe’s largest collection of Ice-Age fossilized footprints.
Entrance Fees on the Rise:
Entrance fees and individual park annual passes are set to increase at many parks across the nation on January 1, including White Sands where an annual pass will go up from $40 to $45. Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 or $10. The increase was first proposed back in 2017.165 National Park Service sites charge an entrance fee; the other 254 national parks remain free to enter.
The nationwide America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain $80 in 2020. The Access Pass for people with disabilities remains free. For a breakdown of all the annual pass options, check out our “National Park Passes Explained” video on the RV Miles YouTube Channel. We’ll provide a link in the show notes.
2020 Fee Free Days:
The Park Service has also announced fee-free days for 2020:
January 20 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
April 18 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
September 26 – National Public Lands Day
November 11 – Veterans Day
A Grave and Immediate Threat:
America’s national parks are facing a grave and immediate threat: invasive animal species.
The National Park Service has asked a group of experts to help chart a course to handle the problem of invasive species, and those findings were recently published in the journal Biological Invasions. Invasive animal species can be found in more than half of all national parks. Of the 1,409 reported populations of 311 separate invasive animal species, there are management plans for 23 percent and only 11 percent are being contained. They include mammals, such as rats, cats, and feral pigs; aquatic species like lake trout, and reptiles like the Burmese python in Everglades National Park where pythons that can reach 23 feet in length were found thriving and reproducing twenty years ago. The result has been huge declines in native mammals.
Currently, the National Park Service has no comprehensive program to reverse or halt the trend of invasive species, but the study was a first step towards a national strategy.
Assisting Wildfire’s Abroad
The United States is sending 21 wildland fire personnel from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service to assist in fighting the devastating wildfires currenty plaguing Australia. About 100 fires have been burning for weeks in drought-plagued New South Wales, with half of them uncontained, including a “mega-blaze” ringing Sydney, covering Australia’s biggest city in a haze of toxic smoke.
An extended drought combined with hot and dry weather conditions have elevated wildfire risk, and fire activity is expected to continue for the next several months.
Human Remains Found at Joshua Tree:
On Thursday morning, December 19th, authorities at Joshua Tree National Park were alerted of evidence of skeletal human remains found while analyzing photographs of the park taken last summer. The discovery is in a remote, rocky, steep location away from any trails.
Law enforcement rangers hiked to the reported location where they found the remains, along with the belongings of the victims. There was no personal identification with the remains, which appear to have been in that location for some time. An investigation is currently ongoing, led by National Park Service law enforcement and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department investigators. At this time, the identity of the bodies has not been confirmed, and the manner of death is undetermined. There are no initial indicators of foul play.
National Park Service Seeks Public Assistance:
The National Park Service is seeking the public’s assistance to develop a list of national park lands that would benefit from new or increased access routes. The Park Service and other federal land management agencies are developing a priority list of lands with no or restricted public access. These lists will help the park service priortitize future access projects such as roads and trails.
Public comments will be accepted through January 4, 2020, on the Park Service’s Planning, Environmental and Public Comments website.
Dark Skies at El Morro:
The International Dark Sky Association has named New Mexico’s El Morro National Monument as an International Dark Sky Park. The certification recognizes the exceptional quality of the park’s night skies and provides added opportunities to enhance visitor experiences through astronomy based interpretive programming.
International Dark Sky Park certification promotes public education and astronomy based recreation in parks while improving energy efficiency and reduced operational costs through outdoor lighting upgrades.
The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. El Morro National Monument now joins more than 100 locations that have followed a rigorous application process that demonstrates robust community support for dark sky certification.
El Morro National Monument features one of the most impressive and accessible records of Southwest history, which is exposed on a single rock. Inscription Rock, a sandstone promontory rising 200 feet from the valley floor has more than 2,000 inscriptions and petroglyphs of many cultures along its sheer cliff face. Monument visitors can gaze upon original markings of pueblo residents, Spanish explorers, early surveyors, and pioneers in symbols, signatures, poetry, and prose right where they were originally carved.
Protecting The Narrows at Zion:
The iconic Narrows Trail at Zion National Park, is now permanently protected from closure and development. The route follows the Virgin River into a deep slot canyon with sculpted sandstone walls soaring more than a thousand feet overhead. For much of the 16-mile trek, the canyon is so narrow that hikers are literally immersed in the river, with nowhere to walk but in the rocky streambed itself.
Part of the route has always crossed private land. Public access to the Narrows has depended on informal agreements with local landowners. The Trust for Public Land has guaranteed public access to both private properties forever. They won a conservation easement for the Simon Gulch ranch, guaranteeing permanent public access to the last at-risk section of the Narrows Trail.
Internation National Park News:
In International National Park news, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, foreign and national tourists who visit many of Costa Rica’s national parks will be covered by an insurance policy. It’s a new way to help convince tourists to follow the rules through positive reenforcement. Visitors who enter the national parks through the official entrances and adhere to posted rules will be covered in case of injury or death. Vehicles parked in official lots will also be covered for damage or theft.
The insurance policy will be automatically included in the price of the ticket for all visitors. The parks will also improve signage throughout protected areas in order to adequately inform visitors of the areas they may or may not visit within the park, and if rules are not adhered to, the tourist will be at their own risk.
A New NPS TV Drama:
Last month we told you about a new TV drama in development about National Park Service rangers, well now, there’s another. Kevin Costner is developing a one-hour drama titled ISB that will focus on the Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch for ABC. ISB will follow elite special agents who end up having to solve some of the most complex and heinous crimes committed within the National Parks of the ISB’s Pacific West region.
A National Park-themed Bar:
Nashville Tennessee is about to get a National Park-themed bar. It’s called “Camp,” and it will feature a national park-inspired setting involving indoor trees, boulders, a fish tank, and elaborate drinks, including cocktails served in terrariums named after 10 different parks. Drinks will come with pamphlets featuring information about the corresponding park. At month’s end, the bar will donate to each park according to number of each drink sold.
Happy Birthday to Sleeping Bear:
Finally, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020. The park is planning a year of honoring the past, celebrating today, and planning for the future, starting with a kick-off celebration on Saturday, January 18.
Sleeping Bear Dunes hugs the northeast shore of Lake Michigan. The park is known for the huge scalable dunes of the Dune Climb and its two islands, beaches, farmsteads, and forests.
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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.