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Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

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Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby rbuswold » Mon Nov 15, 2010 8:58 pm

Hello everyone, I'd like to get some opinions from you real quick if you're a little bored and have some time on your hands. I'm writing a proposal paper for one of my classes about limiting vehicular traffic in NPS land, the effects of automobile pollution, etc. I'd like to know if anyone has some interesting suggestions of alternatives to automobile access, counter-arguments, obscure effects of automobile pollution, etc. Pretty much anything goes as long as it's somehow related to the topic. So, what do you think?

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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby surgent » Mon Nov 15, 2010 9:11 pm

Lands in National Parks are generally more culturally or visually appealing for whatever reason, while BLM-owned land covers much of the west and has everything from NPS-quality land to scrubby nothingness.

Some National Parks are so large that it would be impossible to see w/o a vehicle, e.g. Death Valley. Even when it's very busy at DVNP, the traffic is never overwhelming.

Other National Parks are so popular, e.g. Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, that despite their size, vehicles do overwhelm the scene, so to speak.

The GCNP has instituted some bus services into its most popular areas to mitigate vehicle numbers and pollution, but admittedly, I can't see this as an umbrella solution.

I suspect each NP decides on a vehicle policy based on the variables of the park: size, quantity of people, type of terrain, so forth. I also suspect that in very busy NPs, such as Yosemite, that the rangers put up with heavy traffic in a small portion of the park, leaving the rest to wilderness. So yes, Yosemite gets crowded but only in the central "popular" places. Same with the GCNP, Yellowstone and others. It's a faustian bargain. But in light of nothing better, it's the best for now.

As for BLM... the policy seems to be stay on existing roads, but otherwise, leave us alone. Does your paper deal with both? Limiting vehicles on BLM land would be near impossible. BLM covers an enormous amount of area.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Doublecabin » Mon Nov 15, 2010 9:19 pm

I agree that buses are likely not an Umbrella Solution but I'd like to see the South Rim model in other heavily visited parks. People are inspired by natural beauty to be nicer, and perhaps National Parks have the ability to inspire every aspect of our lives. I'm pretty sure we could encourage ridership muc more easily in our grand lands than we can in any megalopolis where the escape to a tiny metal box is actually embraced.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby MoapaPk » Mon Nov 15, 2010 9:35 pm

BLM has stopped maintaining most informal dirt roads in southern NV, unless there is a client on the land. Many old roads now have signs prohibiting vehicle access.

I'm not sure what the effect has been; we may have seen a decline in people driving drunk into the desert, to shoot up stuff that they then leave behind. But generally, I've found that people who are willing to litter and drive drunk, while randomly shooting guns, tend not to obey the tiny BLM signs anyway.

Some areas (like Gold Butte) seem to have improved with improved road access; that may be a pure coincidence in time, as the folks who go out there now are more genteel types, as you don't have to have a huge old truck to make the trip. The old camping areas are about 20% broken glass; nowadays people arrive mostly in SUVs or nice trucks pulling trailers, and seem to take most stuff back with them. A lot are ATVers, who use the existing roads; they are under a microscope, so they seem to have become pretty good citizens. The ATVers want to maintain some access to that area, so they are perhaps policing their brethren.

The Red Rock Canyon NCA, west of Las Vegas, has considered putting in buses, as in Zion. Last I heard, they felt they could never make it pay, so the idea was tabled. Red Rock is so close to Vegas, that the air quality issues are swamped by the urban area.

A lot of our local dirt roads were closed to limit dust, which is a major part of our air pollution. However, widely-used unpaved roads (such as the road to Corn Creek) swamp any effect from a few users on the less popular dirt roads. Nonetheless, the mandate is to close some fraction of unpaved roads, not weighted by usage, so the small roads are often the first to close.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Arthur Digbee » Tue Nov 16, 2010 3:17 am

rbuswold wrote:Hello everyone, I'd like to get some opinions from you real quick if you're a little bored and have some time on your hands. I'm writing a proposal paper for one of my classes about limiting vehicular traffic in NPS land, the effects of automobile pollution, etc. I'd like to know if anyone has some interesting suggestions of alternatives to automobile access, counter-arguments, obscure effects of automobile pollution, etc. Pretty much anything goes as long as it's somehow related to the topic. So, what do you think?


See William Lowry's latest book, Restoring Paradise, chapter on Yosemite for the political obstacles to mass transit there. Similar problems emerge in other places, such as Mount Rainier (I don't know sources for modern debates for for 1930s and 1940s see Theodore Catton, National Park, City Playground).

Glacier NP expanded bus service on each side of Logan pass in recent years. I haven't been there since the expansion but plenty of SPers can tell you how (whether) that's working.

Some issues:
1) Tourons associate public transit with their morning commutes, and want to "get away from the routine" on vacation. So there's a psychological barrier.
2) The upper-middle-class tourons who dominate the parks associate public transit with the working class and don't like it for that reason.
3) But public transit in parks encourages shuttle hikes, which experienced hikers prefer. My impression from talking to most people on the busses in RMNP is that it never crosses the mind of the regular touron to try a shuttle hike---but if you suggest that this is an advantage of the bus system, they buy into it. So maybe education helps.
4) Ya gotta pay for it somehow. Of course you have to pay for parking lots too but there are more pots of federal money for pavement than for busses, and no so much money to pay the drivers once you have the busses.

Different issue: I'd love to see all "superfluous" roads decommissioned and turned into horse or mountain bikes. Examples include the stagecoach road and Blacktail flats roads in Yellowstone, some roads in Big Bend, the Smokies and (I'm sure) elsewhere. If there are two ways to get from A to B, eliminate one.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby MoapaPk » Tue Nov 16, 2010 3:54 am

The buses in Zion Canyon seem like a great success; they arrive frequently, and greatly eliminate the parking problems. There was a noticeable smog in the Canyon before the buses.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Day Hiker » Tue Nov 16, 2010 6:53 am

MoapaPk wrote:The buses in Zion Canyon seem like a great success; they arrive frequently, and greatly eliminate the parking problems. There was a noticeable smog in the Canyon before the buses.


I always prefer to drive my own vehicle, but I must admit the Zion shuttle system is an appropriate solution for the canyon. As long as they keep allowing us to get on with soaking-wet and sandy clothes, backpacks, and ropes, all is good. The biggest problem I have encountered with the system is how it screws you if you get a late finish and miss the last one of the evening. Early starts are a pain too.

For the smog problem there and anywhere, it could be solved by prohibiting diesels and other dirty pieces of shit. Modern gasoline engines with properly functioning catalytic converters emit virtually nothing but CO2 and H2O, neither of which contributes to smog.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby MoapaPk » Tue Nov 16, 2010 10:25 am

"Smog" was not the right term. There used to be a distinct odor of partially-burned hydrocarbons. That could be eliminated by forcing each vehicle to have an emissions check before entering the canyon. ;^)
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Buz Groshong » Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:29 pm

A number of years ago, I did my first trip out west. I visisted Mesa Verde and sat in creepy-crawly traffic that was slowly going downhill; it was all lined up about half a mile behind a motorized "camper" that was slowly crawling up the next hill. Pollution is only part of the problem; the busses at Zion are definitely needed to eliminate traffic jams. We all like to drive ourselves; but when there are a lot of us in one place we have to learn to be happy with other modes of transportation.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Bob Sihler » Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:30 pm

I've used the shuttles in Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Zion.

The Glacier system works pretty well, especially for shuttle hikes, but there are some drawbacks. One is that you can't get a really early start if you're spending a long day in the alpine. Another is that since GTTSR is still open to all vehicles, the trip can still be really slow. It might be a better idea to close the road to vehicles arriving between, say, 8 A.M. and 5 P.M.

The buses in Grand Canyon are okay and definitely help with the frustration of driving around there, but the South Rim is still a zoo, and nothing is going to improve it short of limiting passenger vehicles drastically, which won't happen.

The Zion system works well because there is no other traffic and the buses run very frequently, but I share Day Hiker's complaint about the difficulties of an early start and a late finish. Again, I would suggest allowing vehicles into the canyon as long as they arrived before a certain early hour or after a certain late one.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Bob Sihler » Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:34 pm

Buz Groshong wrote:it was all lined up about half a mile behind a motorized "camper" that was slowly crawling up the next hill.


At the risk of going off on a rant, I'll say that I think the biggest source of traffic problems in national parks is the RV crowd and that if those damned road-hogging, corner-cutting, visibility-obstructing monstrosities were banned, you'd see instant improvement.

Okay, cutting myself off now...
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby MoapaPk » Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:58 pm

Zion is open to private vehicles for part of the year -- by request of the dry suit rental company (rim shot).
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Arthur Digbee » Tue Nov 16, 2010 3:17 pm

Bob Sihler wrote:At the risk of going off a rant, I'll say that I think the biggest source of traffic problems in national parks is the RV crowd and that if those damned road-hogging, corner-cutting, visibility-obstructing monstrosities were banned, you'd see instant improvement.

All in favor of restricting/eliminating those beasts. But Bear Lake Road in RMNP and the Yosemite Valley loop, among others, would be disasters even without the RVs.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby Buz Groshong » Tue Nov 16, 2010 4:50 pm

Bob Sihler wrote:I've used the shuttles in Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Zion.

The Glacier system works pretty well, especially for shuttle hikes, but there are some drawbacks. One is that you can't get a really early start if you're spending a long day in the alpine. Another is that since GTTSR is still open to all vehicles, the trip can still be really slow. It might be a better idea to close the road to vehicles arriving between, say, 8 A.M. and 5 P.M.

The buses in Grand Canyon are okay and definitely help with the frustration of driving around there, but the South Rim is still a zoo, and nothing is going to improve it short of limiting passenger vehicles drastically, which won't happen.

The Zion system works well because there is no other traffic and the buses run very frequently, but I share Day Hiker's complaint about the difficulties of an early start and a late finish. Again, I would suggest allowing vehicles into the canyon as long as they arrived before a certain early hour or after a certain late one.


I believe they do allow that.

When I went out to the Grand Canyon, I would have been allowed to drive out to the Hermit Trail because I had a camping permit for Monument Creek even though the road was closed to the public. I ended up taking the bus anyway, because I wanted to do the hike as a shuttle. The problem with eliminating car traffic on the other roads at GC is that those roads are the way to get through the park.
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Re: Vehicle Access in NPS/BLM land.

Postby HungarySagehen » Tue Nov 16, 2010 4:57 pm

Hey rbuswold,

Definitely check out the literature about snow mobile use in Yellowstone as well. I wrote a paper about it nearly a year ago, and there's tons of good information about the new restrictions that have been introduced there - both about the impact analysis and the political aspects of introducing the new rules.
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