Today’s refuge: Tomorrow’s strip mall

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Opinion

November 6, 2019 - 10:09 AM

Sunrise in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park

National parks were created more than a century ago to be refuges for flora and fauna and the land on which they depend for existence, to protect them all from the ravages of human development. They have become refuges for humans as well — places where people can disconnect from the clamor of modern society and commune briefly with the natural world while surrounded by spectacular beauty.

To achieve both requires striking a balance between conserving the wildness of the parks and building the infrastructure needed to give humans reasonable access to it. So far, that balance has mostly been maintained in the 58 national parks. But it is now is in danger of toppling, and not in the favor of preservation. President Trump’s Interior Department seems determined to open up the parks to new business and recreational uses, even while it slashes their operational budgets.

President Reagan expressed interest in privatizing and commercializing federal lands in the 1980s, and now Trump is back on the case. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has ordered the National Park Service to allow electric-powered bikes to zip around on park trails, and he is pushing worrisome measures to increase tourism at Yosemite (as if it needed the boost) such as allowing boats on Hetch Hetchy reservoir for the first time.

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