National Geographic : 1979 Jul
In a year we pay hundreds of millions of visits to these havens. They belong to every body, are for enjoyment, and must be pre served unimpaired for future generations. Such is their prescription, long since writ ten. Often it fails to work. "My biggest problem," a superintendent told me, "is to keep people from loving the park to death." He was talking about carry ing capacity and the conflict between enjoy ment and preservation. The rub of too many people, too many vehicles. It is an old refrain among the Park Service's dedicated men and women. I remember a crisp autumn day when God was in His heaven and Yosemite was never grander, except for a stalled car holding up traffic. A ranger arrived. She eased the gun on her hip for comfort, raised the hood and poked around inside, regapped the distribu tor points with a shoehorn, and smiled as the engine roared to life. So did the man at the wheel. Far more serious problems occur, sadly. Rangers increasingly are trained in law en forcement. The superintendent I mentioned had recently dealt with an armed robbery. Park police, a crack unit of the service, have assisted the Coast Guard off Gateway Na tional Recreation Area in intercepting nar cotics bound for New York City. Drug smugglers also cross from Mexico into re mote areas of Big Bend National Park. They have shot at park rangers. The Park Service works with U. S. Customs agents who are now stationed in Big Bend. In wilderness parks, you may witness foolhardy visitors breaking the law-de spite rangers' warnings-by handing food to begging bears. Tragedy has resulted. Even to feed the innocent-looking donkeys in Vir gin Islands National Park is dangerous. They are feral. They bite. Some difficulties are more commonplace. Souvenir hunter bags a trophy in Cherokee, North Carolina,near Great Smoky Mountains NationalPark. Where wilderness beckons, commercialism often follows, creating a dilemmafor the Park Service: Within park boundariesshould shops be removed at the inconvenience of the visitor?