from July/August 2005
Destination Scorecard: National Parks
Hot Springs National Park
ARKANSAS (Score: 55)
"This urban park preserves the tradition of 'taking the waters.' Bathhouse Row is an architectural wonder" —which needs "millions more for renovation." The town's historic district is compatible, but not sprawl on the fringe.
21. Mount Rushmore National Memorial/Badlands National Park
SOUTH DAKOTA (Score: 54)
"Two different experiences. Badlands is relatively remote and unspoiled; Rushmore is like a shopping mall." Rushmore can still stir the patriotic blood, but gateways are "cheesy and sprawling" and relations with the Lakota Sioux, who claim part of Badlands, are "edgy."
22. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
NEW MEXICO (Score: 53)
Panelists split on Carlsbad's tourist sections, from "good visitor control and education" to "significant formation damage" and "a case study in placing visitor use above sustainability. Shameful." Above ground, the park draws praise, the gateways criticism—"glitzy tourist attractions unsuited to the landscape."
Grand Canyon National ParkARIZONA (Score: 53)
At this "geological wonder of the world," South Rim throngs dominate the visitor experience. "The chances of finding a peaceful South Rim sunset spot are equal to winning at a Vegas casino." Many panelists also take points off for incoming air pollution, noisy overflights, too many cars generally, the failure to bring in trolleys instead, and disrupted water levels in the Colorado River. The Tusayan gateway is "filling up with fast-food and hotel chains with no sense of place."
Point Pelee National Park
ONTARIO, CANADA (Score: 53)
"Heavily impacted by the feet of birders" and ecologically isolated between farmland and Lake Erie, tiny, stressed Point Pelee's birding fame has made bird habitats regionally popular, as in the lauded gateway town of Leamington.
23. Gettysburg National Military Park
PENNSYLVANIA (Score: 51)
The consensus on notoriously tacky Gettysburg? It's getting better. "Taking down the observation tower and curtailing the most obnoxious elements in the encroaching phalanx of fast-food establishments represents a victory." Park management is improving, and the historic downtown thriving, but so is adjacent sprawl and "a dense corridor of wax museums, T-shirt shops, and chain eateries."
Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks
IDAHO, MONTANA, WYOMING (Score: 51)
"Yellowstone, our oldest national park, faces some of the most serious threats—water quality, erosion, overuse, wildlife issues. The local community is informed and supportive" except perhaps for the controversial snowmobile proponents, lambasted by many panelists, with a minority mildly dissenting. "Teton is in better shape than Yellowstone, but both are overrun" except for Yellowstone's big backcountry.
24. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
NORTH CAROLINA (Score: 50)
The nation's grandest stretch of barrier island beach is "obscenely over-developed" north of the National Seashore. "This place doesn't have the same family feel that it used to have." At the south end, Ocracoke still draws praise.
Destructive external pressures and major internal difficulties afflict three parks.
25. Shenandoah National Park
VIRGINIA (Score: 48)
Best of the beset by far, Shenandoah needs a buffer zone to protect its famous vistas from more residential sprawl. Haze, invasive species, and plant diseases add to its troubles. Several panelists agree on the secret to a visit: "Hoards drive along Skyline Drive and see each other's bumpers, but a back dirt road can take you to miles of hiking without a soul in sight." Gateway town centers retain some charm.