April 24, 2005

The Park Service Hates History

OK, let us say merely that the National Park Service hates some history, parts that don't fit into the "correct" narrative.

Look how long it took NPS to admit that people lived in Shenandoah National Park before the park was created.

As a Westerner, my "aha" moment came in the early 1980s. I was a young reporter doing a travel piece on Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, spending the day with an NPS archaeologist. He pointed out how (a) the official narrative completely ignored Richard "Anasazi" Wetherill, the rancher and contract archaeologist who homesteaded Chaco Wash to help preserve the ruins there, and that (b) the NPS put the visitor-center parking lot on the site of Wetherill's trading post, with not so much as an interpretive sign, and (c) also ignored his nearby grave (he was murdered in what is now the park). (The link I have chosen, from an NPS site, is still a bit snide.)

Some amends have been made. If you have a newish computer and a fast connection, visit Traditions of the Sun, an amazing Web site about Chaco. Click the "Timeline" link at lower center of the home page, and then the "1896-1907" segment to see the trading post. (Nothing there about the parking lot, though.)

Similarly, when M. and visited Arches National Park in December, we saw a new visitor center under construction. Some locals in Moab, Utah, the nearby town, think it should include a large exhibit celebrating Edward Abbey, the ranger-nature writer-novelist who put Arches on the literary map with his 1968 book Desert Solitaire. Some suggested a complete re-creation of his seasonal ranger's trailer. But what he will get will be a photograph and caption.

Again, a half-hearted bureaucratic gesture, notes P.J. Ryan in Thunderbear (scroll down to "Edward Abbey"). Excerpts:

Before Abbey came along, "Nature" writers were supposed to be an exception. They were supposed to be "inspirational" or "uplifting" or "poetical" or even (God help us!) "saintly". Names such as John Muir, John Burroughs, or Rachel Carson come to mind.

Abbey, for his part, always had his priorities straight. If, for example, as Campground Ranger, Abbey's job was to clean the restrooms and restock the toilet paper, Abbey would be willing to do so. HOWEVER, if a long legged, willowy blonde lassie in the campground looked at all like she needed fulfillment, Abbey would have to reprioritize his work schedule. Sometimes the toilet paper never DID get restocked.

Now neighbors, as you know, the Twin Pillars of the Faith of the NPS bureaucracy are (1) Get your reports in on time and (2) Keep your restrooms clean. Do these two things and you will go far! Abbey consistently failed the Restroom Test (and the Showing Up On Time Test, and occasionally, The Even Being Present Test).

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