National Geographic : 1979 Jul
dangers. He thought a moment, and his words came faster. "Our parks have been called islands of hope. I wish the people who enjoy them so much realized that almost every park is or will be threatened in one way or another." Would he explain. .. ? "Air and water pollution from afar brings insidious destruction," he replied. "Poison ous runoff from mining, for example, or drainage from timber harvesting on adja cent land. Power plants can blanket us with smog, particulates from a smelter rain on us, new highways and houses hem us in. Legal mining damages some parks-look at the huge open-pit borate mine that scars Death Valley National Monument." All appropriate steps to protect park envi ronments will be taken, he said. Public sup port would be welcomed. The watchword is vigilance. As for the Park Service itself, he added, one of his biggest challenges is developing people to fill tomorrow's leadership roles. Most of today's leaders, he explained, began their careers at the end of World War II. They had brought it through lean years. Now it has grown to the point where it af fects the lives of people in almost every state. To help pay maintenance costs, Congress is considering entrance-fee increases pro posed by the administration. They would af fect 30 parks and some 150 campgrounds, the director said. As we arrived back in Yosemite Valley, Bill Whalen offered a final thought. "We're in this forever," he said. "The Park Service is like a family whose size is in creasing. As our organization grows, our ca pacity to love grows too. I'm tremendously proud of the men and women of the Park Service. We still have a long way to go, but we're on our way." Several years ago, on assignment for NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC in Oklahoma, I spent some peaceful hours in what was then Platt National Park, now part of Chickasaw Na tional Recreation Area. I had driven south nearly a hundred miles from Oklahoma City across monotonous shimmering plains and welcomed the interruption of the ancient Ar buckle Mountains, a range so worn down that it hunkered on its nubbins where once it had soared like the Rockies. It was shady among the trees, and cooler along the creeks, and visitors were few. I walked the woodland nature trails and stopped to sip the sulfur springs. Fashion able ladies in sun hats and men in bowlers had come here in their day to take the wa ters. To protect the springs from overuse, the Chickasaw nation sold the land to the federal government in 1902. Oasis in a Crowded World I returned to Chickasaw not long ago in a winter month and again enjoyed solitude. Curious, I thought. Could this park be un discovered? Why not? Nearby towns went about their business, Interstate 35 came no closer than eight miles, the urban hives of Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City each lay a long drive distant. I proceeded to park headquarters. Super intendent John C. Higgins waved me to a chair in his office. Where were the visitors? He smiled. "Up to the start of school," he answered, "it's bumper to bumper in here on a Sunday. Every campsite is taken. We've been using the reservation system for four years." Then he wrapped up many months of work for me-parks, people, prospects. The whole story. "The future is here," said Superintendent Higgins. "You can see it. Our increasing number of visitors reflects it. "People are moving here and commuting to Oklahoma City. The big ranches are be ing bought up around the park for new homes. Along the superhighway a solid met roplex will spring up from Dallas to Tulsa. Fifty years from now Chickasaw National Recreation Area will be hemmed in." And, I thought as I left, more important, more needed, than ever. O Liberty hails the dawn over New York Harborand lower Manhattan.Now a nationalmonument, the Statue of Liberty draws almost 1.5 million visitors yearly. Heirs of the immigrants she once welcomed, Americans still yearn to breathefree. Today, in growing numbers, they seek freedom in the nationalparks. Will Success Spoil Our Parks?