A Guide to the Guide

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, June 1992

A Guide to the Guide

A word about some of our terms
By Debra Shore

The Big Picture: A thumbnail sketch of the history, geography, myths, and peculiarities of each park, as well as its little problems.

Traffic Report: How many people visited the park last year, and how many really visited it--i.e., spent at least one night in the backcountry.

Your Park Service at Work: A summary report card on the doings--the good, the bad, and the utterly ridiculous--of each park's management.

Where the Money Goes: How much do the parks spend on tourism, how much on science, and how much on maintaining their day-to-day operations? To get the answers, we've gathered figures from each park's 1991 operating budget into the following categories: Science includes money for research (wildlife biology, plant ecology, and geology) and collection of research data. Visitor services encompasses the costs of entertaining people (overseeing liveries, cafeterias, hotels), educating people (interpretative programs), and protecting resources from people and people from themselves (safety and law enforcement). Maintenance includes the price of upkeep of everything from trails to bathrooms. What's left over--expenses like administration, management, and employee housing--we've called Other.

Although each park receives other regional and systemwide money for special construction and research projects (Yellowstone received such money after the 1988 fires), the operating budget best represents the year-in, year-out priorities of each park. If science money in several of the parks seems alarmingly low, it should: Research accounts for only $29 million, or 2.1 percent, of the Park Service's gross $1.4 billion 1992 budget.

Fun Index: The bottom line, in which we answer the fateful question, can these parks show you a good time? on a scale of one (maybe you should consider a ball game instead) to five (wilderness nirvana).

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