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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Park Service Top Stories of 2016

Twenty sixteen was another amazing year for national parks.  National Parks receive positive and negative media attention this past year.  The following are the top park stories from 2016.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: While not technically a national park, the year started with the occupation of of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.  The standoff lasted through all of January and into February. Several of the occupiers went to trial and were ultimately found not guilty of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs.  This occupation is a national park story in particular and federal lands one in general, because the ultimate goal of this types of actions is to call into question and undermine the legitimacy of federal ownership and management of public lands. If federal lands can be wrested from agencies such as the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service and given to states and local governments its more likely they will be opened to extractive uses such as ranching, logging, and mining. The battle over who ultimately controls federal lands is one as old as the republic and likely will continue for years to come.  With the acquittal of the occupation's ring leaders, we are likely to see similar "occupations" in the future.

Idiot Visitors: This past year saw the National Parks' break visitation numbers once again.  While official counts are not yet final, its expected the parks will have surpassed the previous record of 307 million visitors set in 2015.  This monumental rise in visitation over the past several years is evidence that the national parks are still well loved by the world.  The vast majority of visitors who come to the national parks enjoy them responsibly.  However, 2016 appeared to also have a record number of visitors who simply lost their minds.  From a group of Canadians skipping across thermal features in Yellowstone to others putting a bison in their SUV. Visitors also tried to take dips in park hotsprings, spray paint their way across several parks, to others being run down by elk. Twenty Sixteen appeared to be the year, many visitors forgot to pack their brains and common sense when the visited the parks.

National Monument 
Designations: Over the past 12 months, President Obama and the Congress used their constitutional authority to designate and create several new national parks and monuments, including the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, Stonewall Inn National Monument,  and  the Maine North Woods National Monument.   President Obama used the Antiquities Act to establish four new national park monuments.

Corruption and Mismanagement:  Unfortunately, the National Park Service's image took a hit this year as well.  Stories about ethical lapses from top park management,  rangers, illegally renting out their government quarters, and wide spread sexual harassment dominated many news cycles these past 12 months. These stories battered the agency and made its already difficult job even harder.

Centennial Celebration: This past year marked the 100th birthday of what some call America's best idea. Parks across the country held special events,  concerts, birthday parties, and speaker series.  The NPS, non-profits, businesses, and countless others used this milestone birthday to raise awareness about the national park idea, the challenges the park system faces, and the opportunities that lay ahead.

So, that's the list of the top National Park stories from 2016.  What do you think? What did we miss?  Tell us in the comments section and make sure to forward this story to your friends.

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

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