Special Report: Threatened And Endangered Parks

Special Report by National Parks Traveler

National park units in the lower 48 states are being confronted, and in some cases overrun, by issues ranging from climate change and invasive species to energy exploration and overcrowding. Natural and cultural resources are being harshly impacted, and in the case of invasive species in South Florida, some native species are being wiped out.

These impacts are not the usual park stresses at the road-paving or conservation-fencing level that can be addressed by maintenance or policy tweaks. What the National Park System faces is the prospect of transformative, even irreversible, change due to human-caused impacts, whether direct — such as overcrowding — or, as in the case of climate change, the result of policy and political failures.

Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida just might be the National Park System’s poster child for what constitutes an endangered park. While so-called thumper trucks, 33-ton mechanical beasts that shake the earth in search of oil reserves, tear up the preserve’s landscape, invading Burmese pythons slither through this sub-tropical landscape, feasting on its native animals, including the occasional alligator. All the while, sea level rise is slowly, quietly, and largely unnoticeably, poisoning the park’s namesake trees with salty groundwater.

Cape Lookout National Seashore on North Carolina’s Outer Banks wouldn’t be out of place on that poster. Hurricane Dorian in September sliced up the seashore’s barrier islands like a hot knife going through butter. Meanwhile, the possibility of a commercial spaceport arising just four or five miles west of Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia poses the threat of a dozen rocket launches a year that figure to impact the sublime national seashore in ways ranging from inconvenient to disastrous.

In this first annual Endangered And Threatened Parks project, National Parks Traveler takes a look at those landscapes that are struggling to retain the qualities that led to their inclusion in the National Park System in the first place.


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