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Trump An "F" So Far On National Parks

Regardless of how well the economy might be thriving, Supreme Court nominations might be approved or other priorities might be achieved, so far, after two years in office, President Donald Trump has earned an "F" on the National Parks.

Trump's failures began with the nomination of Ryan Zinke to become his Secretary of the Interior. Zinke on the surface appeared to be a good man. He grew up on the edge of Glacier National Park, was an Eagle Scout, played football at Oregon, earned a degree in Geology, was a Navy Seal, and served as a Representative from Montana. And upon taking over the Interior position, he seemed to be a good choice. He endorsed Global Warming initiatives and opposed transfer of federal lands to the states. But he then announced he would be reviewing 27 national locations to see if they could be reduced in size. To the horror of environmentalists and outdoors enthusiasts, he recommended Bears Ears, Escalante, Gold Butte and Siskiyou-Cascades be reduced by 85%, 46%, 40% and 38%. Trump signed those changes. Investigation by the New York Times found that Zinke and Trump had been pressured by coal, oil and natural gas interests to take these actions.

Zinke was then revealed to have spent taxpayer funds on extravagant trips, such as charter flights costing $12,375 instead of flying commercial. Zinke has introduced proposals to reduce protections for various endangered species, eliminate 4,000 jobs in the park service, and reduce the national parks budget by 13.4%.

He has worked to approve lease applications for coal, oil and natural gas explorations, drilling, and mining adjacent to many of the national parks. This includes offshore drilling along Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Considered at prime risk are Canyonlands, the Everglades, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and Chaco Canyon.

Chaco Canyon (photo, below) holds valuable ruins and artifacts from the Anasazai, a tribe which inhabited the Grand Canyon area prior to the coming of white Europeans.

Utah's Canyonlands, Arches, Bears Ears and Escalante sites are delicate and extremely vulnerable to drilling and blasting in the area.

The Carolina Outer Banks, home to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, not only contains 200 miles of the world's most pristine beaches, but is home to one of the world's most productive fisheries. Oil drilling within sight of land would threraten both of these.

On the West Coaat, California's Channel Islands is also threatened by oil drilling within a few miles.

The National Parks have been underfinanced since 1980. Lodges, trails and other facilities are badly in need of maintenance, repair and updating. Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone (photo below) is one of the 100 year old buildings with long postponed maintenance and repair, including a new roof.

The irony is that Trump talks about infrastructure programs to employ thousands of Americans. All of this backed up national park work would employ thousands of workers for a decade. Yet it is never mentioned as part of rhe nation's infrastructure.

What is especially frustrsting is that the American voters, especially those who voted for Trump, favor investing in the parks. A Harvard Kennedy School of Government study found that nine of 10 Americans want their national parks protected and properly maintained.

Several members of Congress plan to introduce a bill recommending $12 billion to address the national parks backlog of maintenance and repairs. But Zinke and Trump both oppose it.

The bill faces stiff opposition by well funded coal, gas and oil interests. The newly Democrat House is eepected to support it, but the Republican Senate is likely to oppose it.

Timberline Defies Rumors To Open '18-19 Season

Long time Timberline fans will be relieved to learn that the resort has announced a Dec. 7 opening date.

There have been rumors circulating for months that the resort would not open at all for the 2018-19 season due to four ongoing problems.

There's been a controversy about the resort's water. The Public Service Commission has a Dec. 13 hearing to resolve this issue. Timberline is now operating under a boil water equirement.

Tucker County has been investigating the resort for mysterious issues no one is willing to discuss publically.

Timberline's phones have been disconnected and its power cut off for much of November.

Tracy Herz, the wife of resort owner Fred Herz, assured Outpost none of these were major problems. "We've gotten some snowfall and we're now making snow. We'll be open right on schedule."

Fred announced November 1 that after 20 years Timberline is investing significantly in its snowmaking machinery. He also promised aesthetic upgrades, presumbly in the lodge (photo, below). Timberline's lodge looks the same inside and out now as it did in 1990. It is small, cramped and far behind the amenities available at rival resorts Snowshoe, Wisp, Winterplace and Seven Springs.

Tracy Herz told reporters "working capital has been a problem here since we opened the resort in 1985. Ski Resorts, especially here in the Mid Atlantic Region, have to make all their money in a three month season and lately warm weather has interrupted Winters and reduced our days even more.

She said the phones and power were off for installation of a new phone system. The water system issues were not related to the ski resort, Herz explained, but were a problem with Four Seasons Resort, which runs a community of 700 sales and rental properties. Four Seasons owns Timberline Ski Resort, but their operations are separate. The Public Service Commission has been investigating the real estate company for billing practices, failure to pay bills to contractors and failure to pay taxes.

Timberline is famous as "the skiier's mountain." It has the longest run east of the Mississippi in two mile Salamander (photo, right), and the most challenging blacks and double diamonds in the Mid Atlantic area.

Falcon Motel Bought, Will Open Spring 2019

The iconic Falcon Motel on Hatteras Island has been purchased and will reopen in 2019 as the Swell Motel.

The Falcon was built in 1962 in classic 1950s style. It contains 35 rooms, two apartments and three efficiencies. It closed in 2016 after extensive hurricane damage.

A motel in need of massive restoration and updating could not have been bought by better owners. Laura and Robert Handlow of McKees Rocks, Pa., run Commercial Construction Corporation. They specialize in major projects, mostly office buildings, corporate headquarters and malls in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

"We just love Hatteras," Laura told Outpost. "We've been vacationing for years here, and we decided this is where we want to retire."

The couple is still running their construction company and have hired Wanda Magness as their full time on site manager. Her husband is in charge of routine maintenance. Once the Swell officially opens, Laura and Robert will spend more time in Buxton and eventually close their business back home and move down full time.

Actually replacing windows, floors and the roof and remodelling the rooms hasn't been all that difficult. The major problems have come since the Falcon sat unused for 24 months. Island regulations exempts older properties but if a property stands empty for 12 months, it loses its status and is treated as new construction. It must then meet all 2017 codes. So not only the building but also the pool must be upgraded to meet code.

There's a house at the back end of the property Robert and Laura could move into, but they're not sure they'll keep it. It was also damaged in the storm and the roof is leaking. It may be cheaper to remove it and either build or buy a house elsewhere.

The Falcon (now Swell) property has the best location on the island. It is next door to Uncle Eddy's, a miniature golf course and ice cream stand.

Diamond Shoals, one of the island's best restaurants, The Red Drum, the island's oldest bait and tackle and fishing shop, and Buxton's fresh sea food market, are across the street. Dillon's Corner, Buxton's best gift shop, is across the parking lot. There's a playground, basketball courts and skateboarding park next door. The famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is visible in the background and less than a mile away for anyone wanting to climb it or stop at the Visitor Center at its base. Six other restaurants are within a two block walk.

The ocean beaches are a two block walk. Buxton Beach is wide with a shallow extending far out so is ideal for kids. But in the mornings and evenings the beach becomes a fishing magnet. Surf fishermen converge to cast for Flounder, Striped Bass, Cobia, Spanish Mackeral, Bluefish, Spot and Whiting. Buxton Beach is also a Surfing mecca. The Falcon has always been a popular motel with Surfers, and even people who don't surf enjoy sitting on the beach and watching the show.

Lighthouse Beach is popular because it has lifeguards. From the Falcon, it's less than a mile drive. Lighthouse Beach has good parking and rest rooms.

But the Falcon has always been famous because it is the only motel on the island with direct Pamlico Sound access. It sits just inside the "elbow" in the "corner" of the Sound. If you look closely at the map at left, where the green island is, following the shore westward, you'll find a small notch. That is a creek just behind the motel. There's a beach back there where motel guests can launch kayaks, wind surfing rigs or fishing boats.

Once they get the motel open, Laura has other ideas. She plans to open an art gallery in the front and a sandwich shop across the parking lot. "This is such an ideal location, almost anything would work here," she says.

The only problem with the location is that every time there's a hurricane, it drives the water from the Sound straight through the motel property en route to flooding Buxton. That's what ruined the previous owners. On both sides of the property the land rises to small hills, so the motel is the only channel for the water to follow. Some sort of floodwall or perhaps an artificially constructed high bank has always been needed but was never built. With their construction background, it will be interesting to see how the Handlows confront this challenge.

North Face President Donates Land For Park

For the last 20 years of his life, North Face President Doug Tompkins kept buying land in Patagonia, the southern tip of Chile. Tompkins loved the wild, rugged mountains and coasts and wanted to protect them from drilling, mining and other exploitation.

In his will, Tompkins specified that the land be donated to Chile for a new national park. Yesterday his widow, Kristine, conducted the official transfer, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the creation of the park. It is the largest donation of land in world history.

Tompkins' donation includes 15,800 square miles of jagged peaks and remote seacoast. Bachelet said the park will be maintained as wilderness except for a few docks, visitor centers and lodges. No roads will be built into the park but hiking and backpacking trails will be created. Kayaking, fishing and surfing will be encouraged along the coast.

Patagonia extends from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Chile includes its most spectacular mountains while Argentina includes huge plateaus, which are used for sheep grazing. South America's largest ice fields and glaciers are in Chilean Patagonia. Patagonia has been considered one of the world's prime backpacking destinations since the 1960s. Cruise ships also stop at a few small ports. There are no cities or even large towns, but a few tiny villages dot the area.

Tompkins has been a prominent environmentalist for 40 years. He's been involved in several controversies, refusing to let Chile and Argentina build a highway through his land, and refusing to let mining and drilling interests in despite their claims of jobs and prosperity. It took a while but Chileans now consider Patagonia a priceless treasure.

Organ Pipe Cactus May Need Trump's Wall

Everywhere else along the southern U.S. border, people are skeptical about President Donald Trump's highly touted wall. Even Republicans have their doubts. It would be prohibitively expensive. It wouldn't work. It would be an eyesore. It would involve private property disputes among ranchers and farmers. And so on.

But there's one place where such a wall might even be welcomed. That would be Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in New Mexico.

Organ Pipe has long been one of the treasures of the national parks and monuments. It protects one of the world's most fragile ecosystems and the greatest stand of Organ Pipe Cactus on the planet. It's a beautiful place where, once you adjust to being out on a desert, you can find an amazing amount of wildlife. The plants and animals have adjusted to the heat and lack of water and some of Earth's most unique organisms live there. It's also been one of the most empty, rarely visited locations in the U.S.

Until recently.

Of all the places overrun by illegal immigrants and drug smuggling, the 330,000 acre Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been hit the worst.

This is mainly because the 30 mile long southern boundary of the park is the northern boundary of Mexico and there is no barrier. No river, no cliffs, no high mountains, nothing but flat desert. Off road vehicles can easily cross that desert heading north. Sometimes they stop and let their passengers out, to hike across the border. Sometimes the vehicles just drive on in, loaded with drugs, weapons or illegal immigrants.

Last year (2017) 400,000 illegals entered the U.S. by crossing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Over the last several years, this never ending flow of people have created 300 miles of illegal roads and 4000 miles of illegal trails. They have ruined rare and precious water sources. They have left five tons of litter. Law enforcement officials have confiscated 700,000 pounds of illegal drugs and estimate twice that much has made it through without being caught.

There aren't enough border patrol agents to stop the flow. And there aren't enough park employees to clean up the litter and repair the illegal roads and trails.

The bodies are another problem. This is, after all, a desert. There's no water. After crossing the vast Mexican desert south of here, illegals then find themselves wandering the empty spaces of Organ Pipe, far from any roads. Whatever food and water they brought with them has long since been used up. Many don't make it.

And there are confrontations with Americans backpacking and camping in the park's remote spaces. They do have water, and are often attacked by people desperate for it.

The amount of trash dropped by illegals staggers the imagination. The photo below shows just one location. There are hundreds like this.

95% of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is designated wilderness. It was set aside to protect the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn, Masked Bobwhite Quail, Jaguar, Ocelot, and various species of Cactus and other desert plants. All of those threatened species are now on the verge of extinction due to illegal immigration and drug smuggling.


Ironically, Leftwing Liberal Progressive Democrats, who are usually the most vocal in protecting endangered species and the national parks, have remained silent about the crisis at Organ Pipe because it conflicts with their other priority of allowing as many immigrants as possible into the country for the votes they hope the illegals will bring.

Attempts are being made to cope with this invasion. The number of park service law enforcement rangers has increased from five to 20. Border patrol agents now number 500. (One was killed on duty and a monument has been erected in his honor.)

In this environment, a wall would actually make sense. It would certainly stop vehicles, which would eliminate most of the severe damage. And it would stop walkers. Aided by the wall, border patrol agents could easily apprehend anyone trying to either scale it or tunnel under it.

The objection that a wall would interfere with the scenic vistas becomes irrelevant when compared to the sight of trash in the photo at left, or deep tire ruts, or hundreds of rare cacti broken down.

So if Trump wants to build a wall, let him build it here.

National Parks Debate Cell Phone Use

Everybody from Henry David Thoreau through John Muir to Edward Abbey have preached that backpacking into the outdoors, especially into National Parks and Wilderness Areas, is a purifying experience. Leaving the trappings of civilization behind for a day or a week teaches us what we can do without and gives us an exhilarating sense of freedom.

That has always been the belief of backpackers, who generally held to a minimalist philosophy, and of park administrators, most of whom were backpackers themselves in their spare time.

But today in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier and other parks, hikers now carry cell phones. A typical IPhone contains more raw computing power than the desktops NASA engineers used to put the first men on the Moon.

Many backpackers, park rangers and outdoors advocates aren't too happy about this trend. But others have embraced it enthusiastically.

"My IPhone actually enhances my whole backpacking philosophy," says Gene Reckin, a Spokane resident who frequents the trails in Glacier and the Northern Cascades. "I want to carry the least weight and fewest items possible. I've always carried maps, a compass, a camera, lenses, film, and a flashlight. Now, my IPhone combines all those : a GPS, a camera and a flashlight. And it's smaller than any one of them used to be. What's wrong with this?"

Reckin doesn't use the actual phone functions. "There's no signal," he shrugs. "I don't need a signal. What am I going to do, call someone and say 'Hi, I'm sitting up here on the mountain' ?

He may be in the minority. Thousands of hikers and backpackers do want to use their phone to call and share their experiences while they're on the trail, even sending photos to friends back home. Lena McDowell, Deputy Director with the National Park Service, talks about more and more back country adventurers demanding cell phone service even in the remote corners of parks.

The Federal Telecommunications Act requires the parks to review plans for cell towers. Decisions are left to each park superintendant. Yosemite now has six cell towers. Mt. Rainier officials are considering whether to allow a tower at Paradise Lodge, which would provide service to most of the mountain. But at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, opposition forced telecom companies to hold off on cell towers.

Another argument is the value of a cell phone signal in emergencies. In cases where a hiker is injured or becomes lost, it could be a matter of life and death. The phones could also save thousands of dollars, which it can cost if search and rescue teams have to spend days combing vast areas for someone.

The towers themselves are often the problem. Hikers don't want a huge orange structure looming on the horizon. At smaller parks, towers can be erected on private land just outside the boundaries. But in the larger parks those signals can't reach the interior.

The tower issue will be solved by technology. Within a few years, phones will be able to connect with satellites, just as satellite TV customers can now.

And the idea of isolation is somewhat of an illusion. Glacier Park Guides, for instance, have carried radio phones for 30 years. Their home office can notify them of impending weather, or the location of grizzlies on the trail ahead. In emergencies, the guides could summon help. Not all parks have professional guide services, but the larger ones do, and their guides have all carried radio phones.

And technology is a shifting idea. There was once opposition to the use of portable stoves. Then they became preferable to using local firewood. The opposition to water purification devices and solar charging panels has all faded.

The truth is, the original frontiersmen and mountain men were not into hardship for its own sake. If they had had access to down sleeping bags, lightweight tents, freeze dried foods and our other high tech items, they would have grabbed them immediately. A hiker still has to climb the hills, ford the streams, brave changing weather, fix his meals and find his route. Someone with a GPS can still get lost if he doesn't know how to use it.

What someone really needs to invent is a battery powered electric sleeping bag for those cold nights high in the mountains.

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