Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pollution & Our National Parks

[By Heather Groen]

For the past five years I worked at Harpers Ferry National Park in West Virginia and noticed that when visitors come to see a national park, they intend to take in the as much of the scenery and history the park has to offer.  Many times during the hot summers, our visitors’ ability to experience the natural beauty and scenery around them was limited to some degree due to the poor air quality extensive carbon emission output from heavy vehicular traffic of sightseeing tourists.

The pollution generated from the many cars and buses carrying visitors through the parks consists of many different toxic compounds. These include hydrocarbons, nitrogen-oxide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. All are harmful to people and the environment to some extent. Examples of this harm include vegetative discoloration and growth disruption from ozone, loss of aquatic species from stream acidification, shifts in nutrient availability from acid deposition, and erosion of building surfaces and rock formations. Not to mention that air pollution can also be detrimental to human health.

In Yosemite National Park the number of roads, parking lots, facilities and infrastructure to supply amenities and meet the needs of all these visitor continues to increase. The Sierra Club has reported "smog so thick that Yosemite Valley could not be seen from airplanes". Most vast National Parks are preserved for natural wildlife, but the levels of smog and pollution generated by both visitor traffic and outside sources is now starting to harm the species and vegetation inside the parks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Quality Index tells you how clean or polluted the air is and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. While working at the Harpers Ferry National Park, I often experienced moderate to poor air quality in the park.  Particulate matter would often be excessively high during the hot summers. Much of the pollution was generated outside the park, from the nearby Washington D.C. metro area.  Such conditions hindered visitors from fully exploring and enjoying the park.

Something needs to be done to improve the deteriorating situation. Some of the actions recommended or already being taken include:

·         The EPA, under the Obama administration, plans to propose tough new standards for tailpipe emissions from new automobiles.
·         The EPA should amend the Clean Air Act to include stricter laws that require tour buses engines to shut off after a period of time - while the vehicle is idling in park.
·         Tourism transportation companies should be required by law to purchase fuel efficient modes of transportation.
·         The government can encourage the reduction of vehicular use by limiting access to existing park roads and increasing use of 'clean' public transportation systems.
·         The National Park Service should consider replacing 30% of the existing roads designed for cars with park-like corridors such as walking paths, bicycle routes and roads used for small electric powered vehicles.
·         The Federal Government could provide for more grants and tax incentives to spur development of non-polluting transportation alternatives.
·         State Parks facing similar issues will benefit by many of the above steps also.

*** Don't forget to visit the 'Green Technology & Solutions for West Virginia' web site at 

What other innovative ideas do you have to improve the situation in our nation's parks? Let us know.

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