National Park Scorecard
In searching for vacation information, I came across this article from the July/August 2005 issue of National Geographic Traveler. How sad that my two most favorite parks are ranked "Rock Bottom," while the one that's closest to us in proximity is ranked barely above that at the bottom of the "Facing Trouble" category. I wasn't surprised that GSMNP was on the endangered list, not just because of the pollution that threatens the park on a daily basis, but the gateway cities do leave something to be desired in terms of environmental protection. As much as I love visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, it does bother me how the restaurants and shops in Gatlinburg go right up to the park border without any type of buffer zone.
However, I was surprised to see Shenandoah at "Rock Bottom." I think the ranking is more based on environmental conditions than the gateway cities. We've stayed in Luray (central gateway) and Waynesboro (southern gateway) and drive through Front Royal (northern gateway) on the way to Luray. The town of Luray, with a Super Walmart and other "suburban amenities" is a good five miles away from the entrance to the Park and is not overly developed, in my opinion.
Also, I disagreed with the low ranking of Mammoth Cave NP, another park we've visited. I thought it could have been higher, although water pollution is a serious issue. We were there during peak season of early August of 2000 and I felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. The day we took a 7-mile canoe ride on the river we never saw another person. The two gateway cities are very small and underdeveloped and closer to the highway exits than the park boundaries. I'm not really sure how to interpret the "trinketization" comment.
The summary at the end of the article shows how embarrassed the US should be that our parks are doing so much worse than the ones in Canada, which are better funded and do a better job of putting environmental concerns before people.