Sunday, January 31, 2010

National Parks in 2010: Looking Forward

While state parks struggle to stay open in California and elsewhere, things are looking up for the National Park Service (NPS), which plans to expand in 2010. Among the proposed expansion sites are California's Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, as well as the creation of two brand-new desert parklands: the Sand to Snow National Monument and the Mojave Trails National Monument. The former would cover 134,000 acres north of Palm Springs and west of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, while the latter would connect Joshua Tree National Park with the Mojave National Preserve, including historic Route 66.

The federal legislation involved, called the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, has been introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein. It was also Feinstein who introduced the original California Desert Protection Act of 1994, which created the Mojave National Preserve and promoted Joshua Tree from a national monument to a national park. Both acts have proved controversial, as several competing interests (e.g, miners, OHVers, hunters, environmental activists) fight over who has the right to do exactly what down in the SoCal desert. But this time around, conservationists are finding themselves unusually at odds with solar-energy developers. Also at stake is the critical long-term survival of the endangered Mojave desert tortoise.

Over on the East Coast, there are rumors that Delaware will finally get its own national park. Currently it's the only state without its own NPS site. Is 2010 the magic year that will finally change that? Stay tuned.

Related posts:
State of the Parks 2010: Going Backward
MLK, Jr. Memorial Being Built in Washington, DC
National & California State Parks: Save Money, Show Your Support

Photo: Teutonia Peak Trail, Mojave National Preserve (Sara Benson)

Monday, January 25, 2010

State of the Parks 2010: Going Backward

2010 is not shaping up to be an easy year for our state parks. In California, Governor Schwarzenegger has once again proposed pulling out the proverbial rug from under the feet of California State Parks by eliminating all funding for parks from the state operating budget's general fund. Instead, he wants to make them financially rely on offshore oil drilling that hasn't even been approved yet. (If you want to take action and express your discontent to politicians with this plan, click here to join the California State Park Foundation's campaign.) Is it any wonder that California's state parks have been placed on the America's 11 Most Endangered Places list by the National Trust for Historic Preservation?

Of course, California isn't the only state-park system facing huge challenges, given the current economic situation. Dramatically, Arizona State Parks has decided to close all but 9 of its parks by June 2010, after it received additional funding cuts from its state legislature. Wave good-bye to Sedona's Red Rock State Park, Flagstaff's Riordan Mansion, Winslow's Homolovi Ruins and Tombstone's historic courthouse. Up north in Washington state, Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed closing 13 state parks. Some of Idaho's state parks are also on deck for closure later this year, due to that state's budget crunch.

Why can't we all live in Oregon, whose parks are partly funded by a state lottery? That makes Oregon state parks immune to drastic budget cuts by state legislators. At least until 2014, when the parks' special-funding law comes up for renewal. Start crossing your fingers now, folks.

Related posts:
California State Parks: Open or Closed?
National & California State Parks: Save Money, Show Your Support
NorCal: HI Redwood National Park Hostel Closing

Photo: William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK, Jr. Memorial Being Built in Washington, DC

Looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? Consider donating to a brand-new memorial to honor the Civil Rights leader in Washington, DC. After more than a decade of grassroots efforts to place a fitting tribute on the National Mall, construction of this national memorial finally began earlier this month. Over $100 million of the $120 million needed has already been raised. Click here or call (888) 484-3373 to help out. Or donate $5 using your cell or smart phone just by texting MLK to 20222 (this works for U.S. subscribers only).

Scheduled to open in 2011, this four-acre memorial would be the first on the National Mall to honor an African American. For a virtual fly-by tour of the inscription wall, parklands
and giant statue of MLK, Jr., click here. The nonprofit memorial foundation's website also has a thoughtful description of the memorial's design (by San Francisco's inter-disciplinary ROMA Design Group) and mission. Its position along the axis of the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials pointedly places King in a larger context of U.S. democracy and social progress.

Can't wait until the memorial opens next year? You can visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA anytime.

Image courtesy of Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Top Unfinished Adventures for the '10s

Never too late for New Year's resolutions, right? In 2009, I finally climbed Half Dome. This year, I'm going to walk across the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. I'm toying with this route: on the South Rim, hike down to the Colorado River from Hermit's Rest, then head east on the Tonto Trail (is it dangerously unmaintained or just a little unkempt?) and then up the North Kaibab Trail (here's a trail description from Backpacker via my friend Shelli's website, to the North Rim. That's about 45 miles of trekking. Whew!

In 2010 I'm also going to hike across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Of course, I could be super hard-core and do the 70-mile-plus High Sierra Trail, which runs from Sequoia National Park all the way to Mt. Whitney. It's a beautiful route, but I want to wait until I'm strong enough to summit Mt. Whitney, too. This year, I'm going to cheat and scoot across the Sierras at one of the range's narrowest points. From Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, I'll hike up the Bubbs Creek Trail to Junction Meadow, then head east over Kearsarge Pass down to Onion Valley, outside the small town of Independence. It's less than 20 miles that way.

I've also got some unfinished adventures from the past decade that I'm moving to the front burner for the '10s:
  • Mauna Kea, the Big Island of Hawaii -- I came so close to summiting on foot in 2002, but ran out of daylight and couldn't safely finish. I've driven up near the summit since then, but the footpath, which runs by a permafrost lake and an ancient Hawaiian adze quarry, is like walking atop clouds.
  • Mauna Loa, the Big Island of Hawaii -- I mean, how can you summit one of the Big Island's big ol' beautiful volcanoes and not the other? But I still haven't solved the pesky problem of car break-ins at the trailhead. Ideas, anyone?
  • Rainbow Bridge, Navajo Nation -- Yes, you can take a boat there. But it's a lot cooler to hike there by going around sacred Navajo Mountain. We tried before, but flash flooding stopped us in 2007. Get permits from Navajo Parks & Recreation.
  • Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia -- When I tried to hike the circuit in 2006, I had a backcountry emergency that was almost fatal. Now, I'm determined to get back there and show those mountains that they can't keep me down.
  • Everest Base Camp, Nepal -- My trekking partner had an emergency evacuation by helicopter from near Namche Bazaar (totally his fault, due to some mind-altering substances I hadn't known were in his pack), so I never got here back in 1999. Grrr.
What are your outdoor adventure goals for 2010 and beyond? I'd love to hear 'em!

Photo: Summit of Half Dome, August 2009 (Michael Connolly, Jr.)