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The White House has announced that the First Family will be in national parks next weekend: Yellowstone on August 15 and the Grand Canyon on August 16.  Obama will also hold a town hall meeting in Bozeman, Montana on August 14, and may address the Veterans of Foreign Wars' annual convention in Phoenix...hence, a special weekend edition of Hike On!  

This White House does everything for reasons, so there's lots of political angles to play up.  It's also Sasha and Malia's first trip to the two parks.  title=

The symbolism of scheduling a town hall on health care reform in the home state of Max "I'm making great progress negotiating health care reform with this Elephant (Rock):"  title= Baucus has not been lost on astute Kossacks.  The semi-traditional visit to the VFW convention likewise hardly needs explaining.

But there's more at work here.  Robert Gibbs tells reporters that the trip is designed to draw attention, and lure tourists, to the national park system.  The National Park Service expects Ken Burns' upcoming national park documentary (airing on PBS in the fall) to do for national parks what he's done for baseball and the Civil War.  In the meantime, the Obamas are doing their part.  They might have been inspired by a New York Times article fretting about declining attendance, from a peak of 287 million visits/year in 1987 to 274 million visits/year in 2008.  The Times even suggested "Michelle's Next Challenge," a la her kitchen garden: get kids and other unlikely people interested in putting down the TV/laptop/video game/ipod screens, growing and eating healthy vegetables, and developing other healthy habits.

Attendance at national parks has been declining...or has it?  Much as I agree with the sentiment of encouraging people to visit their parks, I'm not sure whether fretting about declining attendance is reality-based.  Every recession-weary family knows that a camping trip is a relatively inexpensive way to vacation, so common sense alone suggests that attendance would be up this year.  A quick spot check of official NPS statistics for July 2009 compared with the previous year shows that Arches' visitors are up 8.6%; Carlsbad Caverns' visitors up nearly 10%; Glacier's visitors are up 14.8%; and Yellowstone's visitors up 10.3%.  Only the Grand Canyon has reported a very slight dip in attendance.  Informal tallies from various parks show attendance way up on the free weekends.  

When visits are up, Professional Fretters fret that the parks are being loved to death; when they're down, the same people beg the style-setting First Family to visit.  Hmmm...maybe the Professional Fretters can find something better to fret about?  Like why Max Baucus is negotiating with "Elephant Rock"?

In the meantime, the Obamas will be doing their part to publicize the wonders of the national park system.  August 15-16 is the last of three weekends this summer in which entrance fees at national parks are waived.  That's right, if you wanted to visit the Grand Canyon but were deterred by a $25 entrance fee, fret no longer!  The prior two weekends were June 19-20 and July 17-18.  I only wish that the First Family could hike past Old Faithful and into the Upper Basin, or anywhere else in the park; 90% of Yellowstone's tourists never venture more than 1/4 mile from the road.   title=
I hope that seeing Bright Angel Point will remind Obama that the stimulus fund has only scratched the surface of the park service's backlog.  And I hope that Malia and Sasha have a great time, and that other children (and their parents) will be inspired to get away from the screens and into the awesomeness of our national parks.  Hike on!

Originally posted to RLMiller on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 10:54 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip canteen? (14+ / 0-)

    I've changed the series title to Hike On!, mostly because I'm trying to avoid having titles lopped off by some arbitrary character limit.  I'm also publishing on Saturday in order to be reasonably timely, and whether I also publish a Hike On! diary on Tuesday depends on how crazed I am with preparing for NN09 -- I'm very excited to be going, and a big shout-out to NRDC Action Fund here!

    Hike On! (formerly Healthy Minds & Bodies), discussing outdoor adventures Tuesdays 5 PM PDT

    by RLMiller on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 10:54:11 AM PDT

  •  I wonder if they (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cheftdp, RLMiller

    purchased a Golden Eagle Pass.  Best investment of $50 I ever made in 1997 when I camped cross country.  Not sure if it is the same bargain.  Despite BushCo's attempts to destroy our National Parks, they are still gorgeous and the campgrounds are terrific.  Although, I must say, the campground at Bryce Canyon in Utah was a little tight -- but one of the most gorgeous places in the country.

  •  I enjoyed this diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gchaucer2, RLMiller

    I live in the Caribbean and am enjoying it so much but being from New England, this piece was a great reminder for me of how much I miss New Hampshire and the White Mountains, Vermont and the Green Mountains.  I have visited many state parks across the U.S. and they are all signatures of this country and its beauty.  Thank you for a great diary and I too hope that the Obama's enjoy their trip.

    "Do right because it is right without fear of punishment or hopes of reward"

    by cheftdp on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 11:05:56 AM PDT

    •  I was just talking to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cheftdp

      a friend yesterday about camping in New Hampshire -- he was looking for a spot where his 3 kids might enjoy.  I told him that Franconia Notch State Campground was perfect -- not only are there spectacular views (The Gorge) within hiking distance but the drive along the Kangamangus Highway is breathtaking.  And you can stop and sit in the river (stream?) on the rocks.

      •  The Kangamangus... (0+ / 0-)

        ...is absolutely awesome...if they get a chance to go up further, through the presidential range there is a place at the base of Mt. Washington called Dollycop, its a campground, very nice and great hiking.  I used to do a Dry river camping trip every year with family.  I miss it!!!

        "Do right because it is right without fear of punishment or hopes of reward"

        by cheftdp on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 12:07:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Got ahead of myself (0+ / 0-)

        I was so excited, LOL...Yes, Franconia is wonderful, really too bad that the old man came crashing down, it was a wonderful site :)  The Pemi (River) winds throughout and is great fishing too.

        "Do right because it is right without fear of punishment or hopes of reward"

        by cheftdp on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 12:10:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Forgot to mention, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    my second (or tied) favorite Park was the Badlands in South Dakota -- a moonscape and absolutely gorgeous.  My friend and I set up camp, sat with our beers and watched a magnificent lightening storm miles away -- we thought, poor bastards, at least we get the light show.  Ha!  1 hour later, we were in the middle of the light show.

  •  Spent a few days at Grand Canyon last week.. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gchaucer2, UTvoter, RLMiller

    It felt decidedly uncrowded.  It seemed to me that the majority (vast majority?) of visitors were from Europe.

    In any case, the Canyon is as awe-inspiring and beautiful as it was on my first trip 34 years ago.  If you haven't already, y'all owe it to yourself to see this and the other wonderful Nation Parks...

    Barrel's Canyon Pics

    Earthbound but aspiring...

    by barrel of laughs on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 11:12:33 AM PDT

    •  The first time I camped (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      barrel of laughs, UTvoter, RLMiller

      at the Grand Canyon I was as shocked as seeing Stonehenge for the first time.  You drive in, walk and things are flat and bare on the southern rim (wooded on the northern rim) and all of a sudden -- holy cow!  I felt as if I were one of the first non-native explorers who came across this astonishing geological wonder.

      •  First non-native visitors.. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RLMiller

        The first European to view the Grand Canyon was Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. Cardenas was sent north from Mexico by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola (Gold). Cardenas and his party spent three days at the Canyon, trying to get down to the river, until depleted supplies forced them to give up. It was some three centuries before the Europeans would return to the Grand Canyon, when in 1869 Major John Wesley Powell became the first person to explore the entire length of the Canyon.

        Depleted supplies?

        One wonders why they didn't just visit the General Store in Grand Canyon Village.

        barrel

        Earthbound but aspiring...

        by barrel of laughs on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 11:33:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Besides the parks (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FuddGate, gchaucer2, UTvoter, RLMiller

    There are thousands and thousands of square miles of overlooked National Forest and BLM lands. Many are now protected from off road vehical use or development or extractive industries (logging mining oil) by wilderness area designation.

    America has more unspoiled wilderness than almost any country I know of.

  •  The WPA/CCC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    heritage is on display in many national parks, the classic, rustic "park architecture" that is teh heritage od FDR's recovery plan...now iconic.

    Great diary.

  •  Yellowstone AND GC in a weekend?! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FuddGate, UTvoter, RLMiller

    I spend a week or 2 in Yellowstone every year and haven't even scratched the surface of this unbelievable place.  Geyser gazing and Grizzly chasing just can't be beat.  

    Yellowstone isn't a place for a vacation, it's a place to truly experience what it means to be alive.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, feeling the wind and sun, watching grizzlies and wolves fight over a buffalo carcass, Bald eagles plucking fish from the Yellowstone river, Osprey flying over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, herds of bison crossing the firehole, giant geyser shooting 100,000 gallons of water 200 feet in the air, watching the fish at trout lake, 100 million year old standing trees on the top of specimen ridge,  there is simply no other place like it on earth!

    Any American who does not go experience this wonderful place, fails to understand the gift of what it means to be born in America.

  •  yellowstone in a day??????? i don't think so! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FuddGate, RLMiller

    a long weekend maybe, but a day? they'll fall in love with it as our family has and go back again i'm sure.

    "there's a bailout coming but it's not for me!" Neil Young

    by UTvoter on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 11:24:04 AM PDT

  •  mammoth hot springs. oil on canvas (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    mammoth hot springs

    painted  by my oldest daughter as part of her senior project in college. from her sacred memories of the place as a teenager.

    "there's a bailout coming but it's not for me!" Neil Young

    by UTvoter on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 11:28:25 AM PDT

  •  Sorry if you already mentioned this but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    UTvoter, RLMiller

    I read about their trip and somehow in passing learned Ken Burns has a documentary coming up Sept 26ihs on PBS on the National Parks. Six episodes.

    My husband and I are so excited and I love that the Obama's are going to some. Good for them. The best public relations.

    Facebook has an app along with PBS where you can list the Natl sites you've visited and invite other facebookers to also. Might as well....promotion

  •  They should get thir kids the passport (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    UTvoter, RLMiller

    that is available. They can get stamps and there is great info about all the parks.

  •  Yosemite (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    I lived in Yosemite for over a year.  I worked up at Tuolumne Meadows for 2 seasons and did the Half Dome climb twice.  Spectacular Place.  

    I've been on week long trips to Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Smoky Mountain and Rocky Mountain.  Best bang for your buck out there.  I haven't ever bought an annual pass, but that might be in my future.  

    In my experience, the vast majority of NP visitors do not come to hike.  Hiking is a completely alien experience to them.  They come for a drive through only.  Once you get 1/4 mile from any trail head, the traffic drops off precipitously.   The mentality is sadly reminiscent of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Vacation.  You can lead a horse to water....

    "Seek above all for a game worth playing- such is the advice of the oracle to modern man." - Robert S. de Ropp

    by FuddGate on Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 12:36:46 PM PDT

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