Inside the Capitol

Thursday, November 03, 2005

11-7 Advertising in our National Parks?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Can you hear me now? The answer would be yes, even in national parks, if the U.S. Interior Department has its way.
A proposed rewrite of National Park policies would allow cell phone towers, jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, air and noise pollution, livestock grazing, land sales and commercial advertising.
The proposed changes come as a result of some congressional Republicans who have complained that Park Service restrictions are too severe and are not consistently enforced.
Frequent readers of this column know that I sometimes voice similar complaints myself. But this rewrite appears to have gone way too far in the other direction, judging from its bipartisan reception in Congress.
To top that, the version of the rewrite receiving the negative congressional reception is a considerably toned-down version of the original staff proposal. That proposal generated so much controversy that no amount of soft-pedaling may rescue it.
Tennessee's Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander says his constituents, in one of the most conservative areas of the country, were upset by the original proposal.
As he puts it, "It's like sending out a warm up singer for the Grand Old Opry that's so off-key it ruins the rest of the night."
Another Southern saying may apply in this instance too. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The Park Service happens to be about the most popular agency in the federal government. Around 96 percent of national park visitors express approval of their experiences.
Of course, not everyone visits national parks. And some of those who don't are off-roaders, who zoom around on lonely trails through the desert, but would love to do the same thing in our national parks.
I've railed against national forests prohibiting snowmobiles because I can't understand how tracks in the snow hurt much of anything. I suppose they would create noise pollution for people who like to slog in solitude through the snow. And noise is one of my biggest pet peeves.
I don't have speakers on my computer. I don't have Beethoven playing in the background. And I don't have a TV set at my side to monitor the national news. I want absolute quiet when I work -- and often when I relax.
So I can understand folks who don't like noise pollution. My biggest irritation of all is cell phone users. I often think of very unpleasant places I could shove that little device.
I have no idea what I might do if I were walking down a quiet forest path and had a guy come up behind me and shouted into his phone "Hey, Mabel, guess where I am."
So cell phone towers are out. I don't mind so much the way they look as that they enable idiots to annoy me.
New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman has received some national attention for his role in questioning the rewritten policies. One of his biggest problems is with the commercialization of national parks.
Although 300 million people enjoy national parks every year, the federal administration and Congress constantly make them less of a budget priority. The money to improve them has to come from somewhere, so the Park Service now has to ask for individual and corporate donations.
To reward those corporate contributors, the Interior Department now is proposing to allow advertising in parks and peddle naming rights for visitor centers, trails and other park features. It also turns park managers into professional fund-raisers.
I'm not one to get particularly offended by advertising everywhere. It's part of our free enterprise system. If people don't like where you choose to put your advertising, maybe they won't buy your product.
But Bingaman may have a point that national parks should be a commercial-free zone. Sen. Alexander says national parks offer an important sanctuary that should not be tampered with.
They may force the Interior Department to come up with a third draft.
MON, 11-7-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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