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tv   Hearing on Overcrowding at National Parks  CSPAN  July 31, 2021 5:25am-6:48am EDT

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the national parks service can address the issue. sen. king: today's hearing is for the subcommittee to review the impacts of overcrowding at our national parks, on park
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resources and visitor experiences, and to consider strategic approaches to visitor use management. i'd like to say at the outset that i think neither my cochair nor myself have a ready-made set of solutions or proposed legislation. this is truly a hearing to listen and learn and discuss options in an open and free way, to talk about not only the situation today, about where we will be in five or 10 years. we are talking strategically, not necessarily tactically. as vaccine rates continue to rise across the country, americans who have been stuck inside for a year look for outdoor recreation. we are having a record-breaking year at many of our national parks. even as international visitation is down due to ongoing covid-19 concerns, visitation numbers at our most iconic parks like
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glacier, acadia, and yosemite are already at all-time highs. it's great to see so many americans are taking advantage of these parks. that is why we protect these lands in the first place. at the same time, we must recognize that overcrowding in the parks itself can degrade the natural resources and wildlife that these units are designed to protect. we can accidentally love our parks to death. overcrowding can also significantly harm the visitor experience and strain the resources of gateway communities, souring what should be a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. watching the sunrise from the top of cadillac mountain is a wonderful experience. staring at the taillights of the car in front of you as you are trying to get up the mountain, not so much. we know there are multiple ways to address these issues and we
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must consider the full range. for example, we can encourage visitation to lesser-known parks. not all park units have seen the same astronomical growth that is impacting our better-known parks. chairman daines examined this in a field hearing several years ago. we should explore opportunities to highlight these lesser-known jewels, including review the national park service's restrictions on advertising. timed tickets and reservation systems are also options that are increasingly being considered and put into place. if not for entire parks, at least at some of the most crowded sites within parks. many national park units have had de facto reservation systems for years. the statue of liberty, for example. these systems can help protect public lands and support high-quality visitor experiences, but they also present challenges that we must consider. it's important to ensure that
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reservation systems do not lock out visitors. america's national parks are for everyone and should remain accessible as possible to all. staffing is also an issue that should be examined, as staffing at the national parks has not kept pace with the growth in visitors. more visitors have stretched our rangers and staff thin and made park operations more challenging on a day-to-day basis. this chart is a graphic representation of exactly what i just noted. the green mountain is the visitation at yellowstone. the red dotted line is staff levels. so as you can see, the staff levels are relatively fixed and the visitation has almost doubled, or more than doubled. this is an indication of the problem of the static staff versus the astronomical growth in visitation. through the great american
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outdoors act, this committee has done significant work to ensure that the capital facility maintenance backlog is being addressed. we may now need to turn our attention to the operations side of the ledger. vehicle limitations are also something that must be considered. often we talk about too many people, but actually we are talking about too many cars. there are alternatives for us to look at. many years ago, one of my sons and i had the opportunity to visit the matterhorn in switzerland, where the gateway community is entirely free of private automobiles. they only have golf carts and horse drawn carts. everyone that goes to the town gets there via train from a station about 20 miles away, where there is a large parking lot. so there are no automobiles in the town whatsoever, and it works. additional investments in
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transit options both through free visitor shuttles and private partners could allow us to continue growing the number of people in parks while limiting vehicle traffic. today's conversation will explore these opportunities and more, but the fact that there are no obvious answers to some of these challenges, no one single solution that will fit all the situations in our parks. i know there is a path forward we can build by collaboration and input from the local level, and it is my hope that our conversation today is a step in that direction. i would now like to recognize senator daines for his opening comments. sen. daines: chairman king, thank you. i first want to welcome a montanan who is part of this hearing who is joining us from whitefish, montana. i have a lot of memories as a kid spending time in whitefish. my cousins built a viking lodge that got replaced.
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my chief of staff is a proud graduate of whitefish high school. we are excited to have mr. gartland here. he is executive director director of the whitefish chamber of commerce. he is a strong voice for his community in glacier national park, as whitefish is one of the key gateway communities for glacier national park. the beauty and history of our national parks truly set us apart from the rest of the world. glacier national park is one of the crown jewels of the park system and a major attraction for tourists who come from around the world and who support thousands of jobs and boost the economy for these local communities. whitefish and other gateway communities see first-hand the benefits of our national parks. i'm excited to hear how the parks service and local communities are working together to address the challenges and benefits of increased visitation to our parks. i echo chairman king's remarks that we are here to learn from
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you all on the course that we ought to set going forward as we address this challenge of increased visitation levels to our national parks. at today's hearing, we will examine the effects of increased visitation to many of our national parks and how this is affecting the visitor experience, the employees. i was struck by that chart of yellowstone national park. i thought that was a side view of the grand tetons, but that was the visitation levels. [laughter] we saw a flat line on employee levels. i grew up in the shadow of yellowstone national park. i have personally witnessed the increase in visitation and how that affects our local communities and the park itself. this chart behind me shows some of the growth in visitation. the yellow bar is 1980.
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as you can see, the baseline, yellowstone national park had just over 2 million visitors in 1980. glacier national park was about 1.5 million. look what happened in 2019. we took that snapshot because 2020 with covid, we will put that as an asterisk and we will likely break these record numbers. we saw it doubling over the course of 1980 to 2019. in 1980, that is when i graduated from high school. visitation numbers there have doubled since then, now over 4 million visitors to yellowstone national park. similarly, glacier national park numbers were 1.5 million in 1980 and now they are 3 million. this is not the case for all of our national parks in montana. we have these smaller gems. gems is probably an
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understatement, describing the beauty of these parks, like a ranch where i held a field hearing yours ago, the bighorn canyon recreation area. these have seen consistent growth, but not near the levels we have seen of the more well-known parks. i think one of the ways we might be able to better address increased visitation, looking for ways to encourage folks to spend a day and some of these lesser visited parks would not only relieve congestion at our larger parks, but it will importantly boost the local economies by these smaller parks. i believe we should be looking at innovative ways to connect with visitors to spread out visitation within the parks. as many of you know, i had a tec h background and was part of growing a cloud computing business in my hometown. i believe there are innovation solutions that the private sector is using that the parks
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surface might look at adapting to relieve pressure points on our parks. i want to explore the park services hiring process. looking at the chairman's chart with yellowstone, clearly we need to find ways to get additional employees to help with increased demand in visitation. we want to look at how quickly they are responding to higher quality i'd -- higher qualified individuals. employee retention and morale is key to addressing increased visitation. i want to explore in glacier national park's implementation of a ticket entry system. i heard a lot about this from montanans. i look forward to hearing from the parks service on how that program is going. i want to ensure we are not only looking at the challenges of increased visitation, but also the positive impacts, the economic numbers. with increased visitation comes
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increased jobs and economic impact for local communities. according to the national park service, in 2019, park visitors supported nearly 10,000 jobs in montana, spent an estimated $640 million in gateway communities and contributed nearly $900 million in economic output to montana. if you look at that chart behind me, that is a 70% increase in economic impact since 2012. based on what i heard from my montana superintendents, we will see major increases in the economic impact of our national parks when we tally up what is going on in 2021. this is a good thing. while there are challenges because of increased visitation, we also need to ensure we are not closing off our parks to the world and continue to grow visitation, jobs, and the economic benefits they provide. with that, mr. chairman, i turn
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it back to you. i look forward to a robust discussion and the testimony from our witnesses. sen. king: let's put up the pictures of yosemite and acadia to emphasize what we are talking about. this is yosemite. yosemite is one of the most spectacular places in the world. i can guarantee the people in that traffic jam were not enjoying that particular moment. the other is cadillac mountain in acadia national park in maine. the same issue. you see the audio beals -- the automobiles. buses cannot turn around. it is a very difficult situation. again, the tension and the paradox we have is we want visitation to our national parks, but we don't want the visitation itself to impair the
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visitation. our witnesses are the national parks regional director for regions 6, 7, and eight, where he oversees 89 parks in nine states. previously he was the superintendent at yosemite. were you in that traffic jam? >> yes sir. [laughter] sen. king: and served as acting director for the entire national parks service. kevin schneider is with us via zoom. he is the superintendent at acadia national park. the senior vice president of the national parks conservation association leads the association's advocacy on public lands conservation, natural and cultural resource issues, and arc funding. mr. kevin gartland is the executive director of the whitefish chamber of commerce, where he represents a gateway community, which of course are a
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major part of the park experience and important beneficiaries of the economic development aspects of the national park program nationwide. mr. reynolds, you are recognized to provide us an opening statement. mr. reynolds: thank you very much members of the subcommittee for the opportunity to discuss the impacts of overcrowding in our national parks, on park resources and visitor experiences, and considerate strategic approaches to visitor use management. i am joined remotely by the superintendent of acadia national park, who will be available to answer questions about operations at acadia. this past year has for minded us how important national park's -- has reminded us how important national parks are to our well-being. national parks are a way for us to connect with the wonders of nature and stories that bond us
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to meaningful places. the national park service wants every visitor to have a great park experience. we seek ways to support more exclusive experiences -- more inclusive experiences. ensuring visitors have enjoyable experiences is becoming increasingly challenging in our most popular parks. there are 423 parks in the national parks system, encompassing over 85 million acres across the nation, but visitation trends among them vary greatly. among half of our recreation visits are occurring at the top 23 most visited parks, with significant congestion concentrated in the most popular 12 to 15 parks. crowded conditions can be filled at the most popular scenic viewpoints within one quarter mile of a parking lot. congestion occurs when demand to access a site, entrance station, or roadway exceeds capacity. as a result, the national park
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service is employing strategies to ensure protection of resources. in addition to using pilot projects and flexible planning tools, we are conducting robust public and stakeholder engagement before committing to long-term implementation. parks are working with local and regional tourism entities to develop strategies for promoting sustainable tourism, to address vehicular congestion, the national parks service invested in shuttles, multi use paths where biking and walking are encouraged. timed entry systems are now in place at several parks. a national monument used a successful concession runned timed entry system since the beginning of 2018. acadia national park implemented a vehicle reservation system approved in a transportation plan during the peak season. this system is enhanced by other visitor services, including by
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expanding the islands explore transit service and commercial tours. glacier, rocky, and use committee national parks implemented timed entry systems as pilot projects, eaach addressing a specific --the entr national park estimates it has been able to adequately serve the same daily visitation undergoing the sun corridor, even with increased staff members and reduced visitor services. rocky mount national park is polishing a timed entry access with other entries for other park destinations. they have spread successfully, visitation throughout the day, decreased congestion, and reduced cueing at parking lots. the national park service is working on several technological advances to improve the visitor experience in parks through enhanced trip planning tools, including a mobile app and the work.gov improvements. the national park service's plan
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like a ranger campaign supports visitors by advising them to have backup plans, know where reservations are needed, and to explore the lesser-known parks. the national park service wants visitors to have an inspiring experience wherever they go when the national park system, given the iconic and finite nature of these places, the national park service is committed to collaborating with local communities, business, and nonprofit partners to find solutions that improve the quality of visitor experiences, address congestion in a thoughtful way, and maintain a tremendous range of benefits national parks provide. thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today. i would be happy to answer your questions. just to remind you, superintendent schneider would be happy to answer questions about what is going on at acadia national park. thank you. >> thank you mr. reynolds. >> chairman king, ranking member daines, thank you for the
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invitation to discuss overcrowding in our national parks. i'm the senior vice president of government affairs at the national parks conservation association. there is no greater testament to the success of the national parks system than the ongoing interest visitors pay to the 423 sites. in 2019, parks had 327 million visits. >> i want to point out, that is almost exactly the entire population of the u.s.. >> that was in my testimony. yes. a lot of people. these visitors are evidence of the success of the federal government in protecting locations both valued by the public and national park designated. however, the growth in visitation is posing one of the greatest challenges we have faced. in 2019, before the pandemic, overall visitation to the system was nearly 20% greater than it was in 2013.
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this visitation would likely continue into the future. for instance, yellowstone reported a 40% jump in visitation in april. so popular, they have to close the gate. zion has to wait to access trailheads for four hours. cultural resources and to preserve. for instance, rocky mountain visitors are spreading out beyond existing trails, increasing wildlife disruption. especially with elk and moose. arches and canyonlands, there has been more vandalism, particularly defacing indigenous rock imagery. traffic, gridlock, long lines for basic services and most popular attractions can result in unpleasant trips. graffiti, litter, social trails, and improperly disposal of human waste. this injures variable behavior
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suggests undesired visitors are recreating in parks and the need for more interaction for more park rangers to educate visitors. some visitors use management strategies that we will expand on. permits and reservations, managing the number of visitors entering a park, or part of a park at a given time of day or days a week via prearranged reservations on recreation.gov. messaging and communication of courage and pre--- encouraging previsit planning. infrastructure of facilities. managing visitor movement or behavior by expanding rails, trails, parking lots, and restrooms. and transportation. requiring bus or shuttle ridership, improving bicycle traffic, and managing parking lots. none of these are new concepts. many are used already. . some of the reservation systems in place right now, like yosemite valley, it is far less congested right now. rocky, it is easier to get around.
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traffic is moving better at glacier. these tools need to be refined and adjusted based on the parks that we are talking about. other issues we are concerned about, and we hope we can address with the committee, equity issues. we believe the park service needs to critically examine making parks more welcoming and relevant for black, indigenous, and people of color. in this regard, we think safety needs to be reviewed. language and communication. right now, most communication in parks is offered only in english. and fees. research suggests increasing user fees is not an effective strategy for increased visitation and can pose a barrier that would disproportionately impact low income populations. some areas we think we should look at is collaboration. close and innovative collaboration needs to take place between parks, future visitors of parks, current visitors of parks, local
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communities, concessionaires. staffing. between 2011 and 2019, nps lost 16% of its staff capacity. the result is staff take on multiple collateral duties. it is not uncommon to find trail crews attending to busy restrooms or law enforcement helping with parking. it is a huge problem. dispersing visitors. dispersal could happen regionally or in a park unit itself. when visitors spread out along these locations, it could cause impacts we weren't -- unintended consequences we were not prepared for. visitors encountering a temporary delay of arches are making their way to canyonlands. now canyonlands is very busy and is taking 30 minutes or more to get into. shifting traffic and crowding is not improving the visitor experience in these parks. search-and-rescue has also increased with the visitation increases.
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this has become a huge problem in so many parks. i'm sure mike could expand on this. park visitors could access terrain they are not equipped for, which adds to staffing and financial burdens with parks we are trying to manage well. in conclusion, we appreciate the oversight on the impacts of overcrowding. i look forward to speaking with you more about it. i hope we can take a look at the impacts and challenges with climate change, outdated infrastructure, and increased visitation as issues we need to really address moving forward in congress. >> thank you very much. i would like to ask mr. kevin garland, the executive director of whitefish chamber of commerce, whitefish, montana. mr. garland, we'd like to hear from you about the impacts of this phenomenon in your region. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i do appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today about
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what is really becoming a very serious concern to us here. glacier, northwest montana, specifically whitefish, is the goose that lays the golden egg. we treasure it and do a lot to protect it. whitefish is a mountain resort town about 25 miles west of the western gate to glacier national park. our organization represents about 500 small businesses in west glacier, columbia fall, whitefish. as we are primarily a business organization, i will tell you business is booming this summer. i spoke with the leader yesterday, hotel reservations were up 7% from 2019, our previous record-breaking year. you take a look at what is happening in the short term rental market, probably doubled the number of units than there were two years ago. rates are skyrocketing, too.
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i would estimate occupancy in the valley during the first month of our summer season was up 15% to 20%. glacier international airport with nearly 30% from 2019. all-time high during june. business is a little bit too good right now. there aren't enough workers to fill the jobs available. businesses are leaving money on the table. operations really are the catchword of the day. most everybody in the hospitality industry, outside of it, struggling to find employees. running unlimited operations, 75% to 85% of capacity. mom-and-pop restaurants, hotels, whitefish montana resort, our series resort that has major summertime operations. a lot of reasons for that. we are not here to talk about that. despite that, it is safe to say 2021 will be the busiest ever for tourists in our region and for glacier national park, as well. that is nothing new.
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visitation to glacier has been setting all-time records. for most of the 10 years i have been here in town, in the world of business, that is a good thing. simply meeting the demand you have, everyone is happy. unfortunately, in managing national resources, a natural park, is not just the law of supply and demand. there are also a myriad of other issues, as you have talked about. including visitor experience, carrying capacity of the land, and effort to manage the overcrowding, we have seen and maintained the visitor experience. the ticket entry reservation system for the most popular area of our park. oddly enough, it is the system itself that has been the worst part of the visitor experience in glacier. at least for those that were not able to get the two dollar ticket. the fact the system was rolled out late in the game, a couple
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of months before the summer crush hit, caused a lot of confusion and frustration. not only amongst visitors attempting to purchase trick -- tickets, but folks like us at the visitor information center who were getting hammered by tourists all summer long. thousands of miles. tens of thousands of dollars in hotel and airfare reservations to see their vacation ruined because they can't get the two dollar ticket. a lot of experiences. one businesswoman put it to me, she feels more like a marketing director, trying to help people work through the issues. it has become a big deal. i think you have to consider three different groups. people able to get a ticket, visitors who are not, and residents of our area working in this area 306 to five days a year in part because they want to enjoy the park on a regular basis.
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by all accounts, the entry system has received -- relieved overcrowding that we have seen. that is a plus for those able to get into the park. still difficult to find a parking space at major tourist attractions and trailheads. it is possible to find pullouts and places to get out of your vehicle. a short hike, photos, and relax. i was there on the fifth of july. we were able to find parking spaces or we can get out and enjoy the park. but through the park, it seems to be a little bit less congested during the peak daytime hours. the glacier experience is quite different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. difficult to get off of the beaten path in glacier. the most popular trail is always crowded. often describes moving down the mountain. simply getting to the trailhead can be harrowing.
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a local guy said it was like the indy 500 at 7:00 in the morning as visitors come in to beat the 6:00 time for the ticket entry and get up the highway to get to their favorite destination as quick as they can. the majority of folks able to get into the park are a good experience, unlike those unable to get the two dollar ticket. but trying to help folks manage their vacation has become the most difficult thing we have ever had to deal with, in terms of dealing with reserves. locals, and i know my time is over, i will try wrapping things up pretty quick. locals are feeling like they have been left out. they live and work here, they are competing with 3 million other people to get a limited number of daily tickets to get into the park. i think something needs to be done about that. overall, the business community
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is viewing the system needs tweaking to lead to a better experience to the public. in terms of alternatives, which we will talk about, we don't want to see a return to unrestricted access which we have had to this point in 2018, and last year. there were times we were at full capacity, so the front gates were shut down. traffic backed up onto the highway. folks could not access businesses. that did impact businesses. this year, folks were able to access businesses. i don't think they are seeing negative impacts. public transportation, i'm sure we can talk about that in little bit. i will kind of close by saying business owners in whitefish an northwestern montana, like any others, they are here to make a profit, but they have a very strong sense of ownership and stewardship for the park. they believe it should be protected, not exploited. the phrase we hear is loving the
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park to death. the goose that laid the golden egg. we have to balance the good aspects of bringing more business to our community, with really running the experience we have in glacier. that is the challenge we have coming in the next five to 10 years. happy to discuss what you would like to discuss. a lot of issues. we appreciate the work the park service and the superintendent have tried to work with the business community. managing tourists, getting them to enjoy the area outside of the park as well. we have done a lot of that regard. thank you. >> thank you very much. thank all of you for the important testimony and lots of ideas. i want to ask kevin schneider, the superintendent at acadia, you went through a major transportation study that went on for several years. you worked with the community.
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where did you end up on that? have you had enough experience to know whether it is working? >> thank you. several years preparing transportation plan, which involves a great deal of community and stakeholder engagement. visitor use management at acadia is not just about vehicle reservation system. we are trying to take a comprehensive approach in a range of management actions, as outlined in that plan. we worked closely with our communities, business partners, to develop that plan. many opportunities for public engagement. it was about a four or five year planning effort. as i said, several components. expanding key park and ride locations in acadia national park so visitors can leave their car behind, hop on our island explorer, and get to key destinations. expanding that transit system. offering more routes for visitors.
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using concessions contracts to smaller sized touring buses. and vehicle reservations are a piece of that, as well. >> you are doing the vehicle reservation at cadillac mountain this summer, is it working? do people know it when they get to the mountain? are they angry because they got there and did not know they needed a reservation? >> we are very pleased with how the vehicle reservation system is going. we did a pilot for about 21 days last fall in october. as a result, we made a few tweaks. in a nutshell, we are pleased. i was on the summit of cadillac on the first day of our reservations this year in may. i was in uniform seeing how things were playing out. a visitor came up to me and said he had been there a week prior, and it was a complete mess.
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there were cars everywhere, completely over park, cars double parked. we said it is so much better with the reservation system. we are hearing that sentiment from visitor reviews online. look at trip advisor the recreation.gov app, see what people are saying. i think visitors understand there's only 150 parking spaces on cadillac mountain. and we want people to have a high quality experience. not everyone can be up there at the same time. it is not abnormal for us to have as many as 500 cars on the summit of cadillac mountain for those 150 parking spaces prior to the reservation system. >> let me ask mr. reynolds a question. one of the issues, and i may be wrong, the park service has a policy of not favoring one park over another in terms of advertising and promotion. can we think about that policy in terms of promoting the lesser
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used national parks? i was in southwest texas at one point, and almost because of the weather, i went to big bend, it turned out to be one of the best experiences my family had. it was a very little visited national park. can we do some promotion that will spread the visitation around somewhat so they are not concentrated on a dozen iconic places? >> thank you very much. both for the hearing and conversation, but also that question. we absolutely can be doing a much better job of letting the americans know -- i mentioned in my testimony, 423 sites, many of them are gems. a lot of people drive right by them to a glacier or yellowstone. we are interested in capturing folks once they are in a region of an area. with your family, you're in some place for three or four days.
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you will have time, you can balance a suite of these kinds of things, like kevin mentioned in acadia. while you are waiting for your hour to get your ticket, you might want to know there is the roosevelt site on the canadian border with maine. there is an affiliate of the national parks system, and we have ways to use our new mobile lab. recreation.gov can connect people to use and know about these places. >> does that have a feature like waze that tells you where the congestion is? >> it doesn't. >> could that be added? >> i can't speak for that. we can come back and see what rec.gov, the folks that manage it could do. we are working in a field of emerging mobile technology, mobile integration. this can range from tracking we -- vehicles using bluetooth without personal data to know
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what traffic is doing, much like what waze uses. we have bandwidth and infrastructure problems, particularly in the west -- >> we are working on that in another bill. >> that is another hearing. but we have ways we are working with -- particularly our partners in the federal highway administration with new technologies to help us both manage and get the word out. >> thank you. senator daines. >> mr. garland, thanks again for coming today. i want to explore glacier park's ticketing system. you made several comments about that in testimony. the ticketing system has its benefits as well as drawbacks. the community believes there needs to be some improvement. what are the top one or two improvements you might suggest the park service might look at to help the ticketing process better? >> senator, thank you for the
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question and invitation to speak today. there's a lot of things that could be done. i expect when we close, but park will take a closer look and how they want to move forward. the biggest problem we saw from the implementation standpoint was the late-breaking of the decision to implement, really less than 60 days before our peak summer season began. i know there are reasons for that, we have been living in a bizarro world, uncertain about where we would be this summer. but talking with folks here, we need to make a decision on what will happen next summer within the next couple of months if we will stay the course on this. that is the advice my organization would give us. we think there are benefits. the primary drawback and hassle this year has been the decision
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was made late. folks make reservations to visit glacier national park one or two years in advance. when you make reservations at hotels in the park, adjacent to the park, exactly one year from the day you go online. folks are making those reservations a long time in advance, booking flights a long time in advance. they have no chance to know this was here, unless they went back and did more planning. i would have known that ticket was there. but i know there were folks that were completely surprised. number one, let's make a decision if we continue that early, no less then six months in advance, december the first of six months before our peak season begins, memorial day. another would be to have a comprehensive marketing campaign to get the news about that out. that was lacking. not just folks like us who run
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visitor centers and deal with hundreds every day, but lodges, hotels, outfitters, all of those folks are defective tourism counselors for glacier national park. we all get those tickets. you walk into a restaurant, you ask the waitress or the waiter about the area. those things happen. from our perspective, it was a matter of timing. the late start, late decision to make the program work. despite a lot of effort on behalf of the parks staff, there was a lot of uncertainty about how the system worked, what you needed to do to get a ticket, why you were being spun off at 8:00 in the morning when it is -- at 8:01. a lot of frustration getting to become comfortable with something new. >> those sound like solvable problems. just put a stake in the ground
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quickly so we can make better plans for next year. the second issue seemed to be more of an educational issue to understand how the system works. if someone could solve those problems, i think we can, from what you just told us. if one of the things you might think about to change on the ticketing system, does any other thoughts come to mind? >> yeah -- the chamber has two rules in life, one is improve business, the others maintain quality of life. from the quality of life standpoint, the folks who live, work here, and drive the economy, they need access to the park. i don't know how that happens. we had a discussion for that about an hour yesterday. how you make it available for folks who are -- the reason they come here to work for the summer is so they can enjoy the park. if they are leading raft trips down the middle fork, half in
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the park and half out of the park, and they can't get into the park with a pass without waiting in line at 8:00 in the morning with the millions of folks trying for those, we have to find a way to accommodate them. we have to find a way to accommodate those staying in park properties, whether the concessionaire running or not, and can access the entire park. you stay in glacier national park and you cannot access -- we have the two dollar ticket. so i think there's a lot of issues regarding how we can prioritize. and legal issues about if we can briar ties who cannot access -- prioritize who can have access to the park or not. >> thank you. i'm out of time. mr. reynolds, we talked about the ticket entry system. what is your feedback from local communities? do you believe it is an effective tool?
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we have mr. garland from glacier, you are looking at more of these parts putting in some kind of ticketing system. >> thank you. apologies to kevin and the team, the folks in whitefish and around the park for the starts on that. i have definitely heard that. i've also heard of it getting smoother as of late. we are spreading things out and the experience is better. we are here from essex parks and other areas where the area is doing well with the system, also experimenting at rocky. i think what mr. garland's testimony and his really good point's bring up is we have to work closely with the business communities, almost a collaborative partnership so we are not doing this in a vacuum. and we will do that much more ahead. the good news about our system is no one-size-fits-all. what goes on at one park can be very different for a variety of reasons at another part. we are trying to be extremely
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flexible in a way these things go and not dictate to our parks how they form, which would be much more local in their development. >> good news. mr. reynolds has heard you loud and clear. it is all part of the process of hearing. thank you. >> you mentioned 1980 you graduated from high school? are you old enough to be a senator? i found it shocking. >> i want to hear the first-hand accounts of lewis and clark whenever you have a chance. >> i asked for that. >> i'm stunned -- you graduated from where in 1980? [laughter] too much information. i first ran for office in 1980. >> president of bozeman high
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school for me -- >> it requires all of us to be here. that is all i can say. thank you, mr. chairman. mr. reynolds, it is very clear our parks, especially now with covid, possibly receiving -- receding, in many places, not so much. we've had too many visitors, maybe not enough staff. a lot of tensions and times when i think our employees have been under a lot of stress. would you agree? >> thank you, senator, for acknowledging that. the women and men of the national parks service are my heroes. much like all of us, all of you, they dealt with very strange pressures on their lives. we asked them to do a lot. the positive side of covid is they have been very innovative. they started to rethink things at the front-line level. the downside is there's a lot of
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care and healing we need to do in support to make sure employees stay mentally fit. >> that is where i'm going. what are you doing to make sure your employees are -- their mental health needs are being addressed? do you have special counseling programs or things of that sort you set up? >> thanks for that question. for years, we have had things like the critical incident stress teams that will come in when an employee has been in a very difficult situation, an accident or rescue. we have deployed those a lot more as of late. parks have unique relationships with a county health provider. sometimes private providers are employee assistance programs where you can bring in a counselor or other folks to work with >> i can give you a couple of personal examples from the fire we manage in yosemite. we bring the community together
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a couple times a week. we did a cooperative agreement with them. >> these kinds of efforts are helping them? >> there is definitely positive feedback on many of the events. we can do a lot more, senator, and we intend to do so. >> i think you should. i am astounded. i never visited fraser national parks are feel as though, my goodness, it would take me a long time to get there. but to be able to get a ticket. i noted that mr. reynolds said it is not a one-size-fits-all that the community has to be involved and the number of people who get into the parks and the accommodation for local people. do you think enough is being done to ensure that the community around frazier national park and their concerns are being addressed even as -- what did he say? a one-year wait for people to get into the park?
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>> there is a one-year reservation window. >> reservation window. thank you. >> if you would like to see frazier national park, i'm sure there is a way to get you in the gate. i have visited 1000 times this summer. you can come after 5:00 in the afternoon or you can go to the east side and get into the exit area and enjoy the park without that two dollar ticket. but yes, i believe the park does a good job of interfacing with the community. the superintendent sits on a group that meets monthly with us . he sits on many different groups. the forest service, the blm, all of our different agencies to talk about what is being considered so a lot of us in that group were privy to the fact that we were considering this type of a system and he actually does zoom up meetings
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with our business community, anybody who wants to sit down and talk about this in the final stages of getting to that decision. i believe that they do a good job of seeking input from the communities around them and the public and they are concerned about the impacts of the decisions they make in the park and what impact they have on folks outside of it. next as so many of our national parks, it is a situation where there are so many businesses very much dependent on the visitors and at the same time, there is such a thing as overload so i am always interested to make sure that the local community has a voice and the decisions that are made with reference to what is happening in the national parks near them. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator. senator lee. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. reynolds, i would like to start with you. you serve as the regional director for the parks service for regions for 6, 7, and eight,
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and that puts you in charge of parks within my state. as i understand it, some problems with overcrowding occur and can be addressed inside of our parks. many of these issues begin outside of our parks. can you tell me a little bit about this consideration? >> thank you for that question. getting people before they arrive would be one idea and that is something we are exploring, some better, i guess you can say, models and partnerships to look at traffic. we have a study happening in the grand teton's in our region that is looking at where visitors are coming on, what they do when they get there, what their vehicles are doing, what their visitation preferences are, these studies through social science work and working with the federal highways should be able to give us better data. getting the word out, mr. garland mentioned something similar. before you leave the house, as
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it were, wherever you are, what is the situation on the ground? that is something we are exploring. >> so people can decide when the best time might be for them to visit and which part of the park to enter, which part of the park to visit. in 2020, zion national park, in my state of utah, was the third most visited park in the nation with around 3.6 million visitors. at times, zion has had to deal with some of these overcrowding issues because that is a lot of people visiting one park. in many cases, a reservation has been suggested as the only solution in spite of strong opposition from most park visitors in local communities and that is something i strongly impose. the east zion initiative can also serve as an excellent test case for what can be done to address these issues without capping visitors or degrading resources. can you tell me a little bit about the efforts being undertaken to disperse visitors
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to underused assets as part of the east zion initiative? >> yes, senator. we are pretty excited about the conversations happening in and around zion. i will use that as a general regional area, if you will, sir. but there is a multi-stakeholder engagement. there are, i guess you can say, interested citizens and developers that have the east zion initiative and other sack and other second help to supplement, i guess you can say, what people will be able to do and stay and experience. my understanding of the initiative is we have some robust conversations starting again so we do not have just one-size-fits-all for zion. and you know, i have spoken to the east zion folks at least briefly and they are extremely interested in working closely with the and the superintendent is as well. >> those things have been very helpful and they are very appropriate for zion. zion consists of 148,000 acres
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of land. in years past, much of that visitation, as far as i can tell, the vast majority of it, overwhelming majority of it, has gravitated towards a small handful of features in the park that are on more or less one side of the park. i have been very pleased to see the superintendent and other park leadership working to collaborate with local communities in trying to figure out how it can preserve resources and facilitate greater access. how can we encourage this type of collaboration in all of our gateway communities? >> i think that they are certainly -- is very good team that are really innovative about how to handle those visitors without a lot of problems, they are leading the way along with the partners in that community which have started -- one of the first shuttle systems. we should be looking at the zion
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conversations with stakeholders meetings as a model we should strive for and other parts we are dealing with because having everyone at the table will avoid the problems we were just talking about with mr. garland. >> some of these questions that you are addressing regarding dispersion and utilization of park assets, these are things that tend to require some fairly technical analysis. what resources are currently available to our park superintendents to help make sure our parks are accessible and maintained? >> the superintendent may say there is not enough yet but we have isis social science program. these are folks that help us study design and how to do things much more credible than just back of the napkin kind of approach. we have some academic help. we have cooperative education study units and a number of them in utah. we tap into academic help that way.
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we also have the visitor use management framework. we trained a little over 300 of our employees on how to handle the various tools and mechanisms . the zion team is extremely up to speed on that. >> thank you very much. >> second round and i want to start with miss bringle. you talked about concerns on impact on equity and we want everyone to be able to visit national parks. can you expand on that concern and how we balance a reservation system which seems to work in many cases with the danger of excluding people from the park experience? >> sure. i think when you hear about the visitation in many of the popular parks that do assess or have fee systems, that visitation is growing so fees
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are not a deterrent for people to come and work but what we did find in terms of reservation systems was in yosemite last year, when due to covid, they put a reservation system in place. some of the day visitors who were latino struggled with the english only information about getting into the parks. and were not aware of the reservation system so communicating with folks about the reservation system is sort of a key piece. but our concern is the families who are coming in who are low income, whether it is a deterrent for them to come into a park and buy a pass, a day pass or a weak pass, because of
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the fees. i don't think it has been thoroughly studied within the parks system what is deterring certain low income visitors from parks. so i think, as mike was just talking about, the social science, there's small teams we need tattoo the social science teams and make sure that we are actually surveying people as to what is deterring people from coming to parks and if fees are playing a role in it. >> thank you. the result of what you are saying is that more studies are necessary to examine unintended consequences with regard to equity. mr. reynolds, i am interested in the technological aspects of this. one possibility -- we talked about adding to the program a kind of ways component where you could immediately check and see what the congestion situation is. another piece would be to have -- i have an app on my phone called around me that if i type
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in a restaurant, it will show me all the restaurants within a few miles. the same thing could be done in terms of natural resources. my family and i were in moab and we were between arches and canyonlands. we went to a diner in the waitstaff said you have got to go to dead horse point park, which is adjacent. except for that coincidence, we would not have known about it. i can also think about, as an antidote to this congestion problem, making people aware of other cultural, historic, and scenic assets in the area through your recreation.gov at or a different national park app. >> agreed, senator. embracing technology is a really important part of our negations and engagement framework. >> it would be nice if it were in multiple languages.
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>> that will be a challenge but we fully embrace this need for equity and inclusion. with our diverse visitors coming, the face of america. also, this new app i mentioned, i hope you have it on your phone, senator. it is fun to use. it is going to integrate across the platforms that we do have now like recreation.gov and it has the seeds for much of what you are asking but we would love to sit down with your staff to talk through more about what we can do to expand on this idea. >> he mentioned -- i think it was you that mentioned timed entry pilots. my question is what results are you seeing? i assume what that means is that you can go to the sun road at 10:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m., if you schedule a time ahead. is that what you are referring to? >> not quite, senator.
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for we made final decisions -- wisher would be the perfect example of that, but going to the sun road program right now is a pilot. i'm saying this in the sense of good news for those who are critical of it right now because we are learning as we go. we are trying to respond to what has become a very busy summer with more limited staff, so the pilot did help us to manage but we are also learning daily how best to tweak things. rocky mountain is in a second summer piloting and the superintendent has adjusted a lot of things based on what they learned over time. some things we have learned is the hour of the day could be adjusted to perhaps allow more folks that are local, as mr. garland was speaking of, to get into the park at a more reasonable hour because they learned that may be the visitation patterns were not as full as they saw in certain parking lots where they learned that perhaps in that park, there is a certain road corridor that is extremely popular.
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you can probably imagine. they focused and effort around that area and that let's people be a little more free and the rest of the park so those are the kinds of lessons we learned. able to tweak before we made something official. >> i take it that you are finding that the new system is in fact working with a minimum of year rotation or resistance. is that accurate? >> it is working very well. we have over 200,000 -- get the word out about the system. we want visitors to know about it when they show up. we don't want them to say, "what do you mean, i need a reservation?" we distributed them throughout the state of maine, local chambers of commerce, and so on. when you make a lodging reservation around here, many of the hotels will send you an emails paying "don't forget to
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get your reservation. here is how to do it." 70% of our reservations go on sale 48 hours out. if you want to reservation to go to cadillac tomorrow, you can go online right now and reservations are available. sunrises already sold out. it sold out in literally one minute or seconds but -- typically available. >> eastport, maine, says they get the first one of the year but i will not get into that. senator. i'm sorry, senator kelly. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. reynolds. i understand that you see the region that includes arizona. as you probably know, we have a visitor access issue at the lake in glen canyon national park. mr. chairman, i have a letter
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from the mayor of the city of page, arizona, that i ask you to be added to the record. >> without objection. >> it talks about closure of boat ramps due to the declining water levels. he reports that visitors cannot launch any boats from the southlake -- from southlake powell. drought conditions in the west have cost the nation to lose access to one of the largest reservoirs in the nation. if this continues unmitigated, it could crush the economy of page, arizona. this is certainly an engineering issue. if the ramp does not reach the water, the ramp is unusable. i get that. but what is the park service are doing to rehabilitate or extend the ramps at southlake powell? >> thank you, senator. we are aware of the mayor's letter said thank you for having that in the record. our superintendent is working
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closely with the mayor and i understand your staff as well for these solutions. the drought situation on the colorado river is a huge crisis. we are investing in moving, i guess you can say, moving money around to try and prioritize for the superintendent and that team . i think they call them pipe and gravel rather than a formal, you know, paved apron for boat ramps, to try and get some things in. there are some old boat ramps that were under the water. they were built in the 1960's as the water was rising. we used them and then they went underwater. they are now coming open again and there may be some opportunities they are looking at as we speak in the last 48 hours to see if we can put some funding in there to re-utilize those sites. there's a lot of complexities, as you can imagine, but we would be happy to sit down with your team and talk through all the details of what we are working
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on, but we are prioritizing some funding to help the park to respond to this so we can maintain some temporary or secondary boat ramps, as it were. there are two open right now out of the 11 that we normally have. >> will that funding comes from the $1.6 billion from the great american outdoors act? is that where the money would come from? >> i will let the team detail exactly that. but my best thought is that it would usually come from some emergency fundings that we have because there are very specific requirements around that money. >> i understand we will be discharging some water from lake powell to lake mead here imminently. is that going to -- what is the anticipated decrease in the level of lake powell from that? >> i will have to get back to you on that exact number. the bureau of reclamation is really the ones in charge of that water flow, and they have been letting us know that they
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are sending water down through the chain to some of the other states that we also see. and i think that it is basically to keep stabilizing things as long as we can but we will get you those numbers, senator. >> thank you, mr. reynolds. good morning and thank you for joining us today. this summer, we are glad to see vegetation at grand -- the visitation at grand canyon national park seems to be returning to pre-pandemic levels. unfortunately, the park has not needed to adopt any form of reservation system like other parts have for day visits, but there is still a need to expand grand canyon's bus and shuttle system to address the two hour wait times that occasionally happen when people are trying to get to the south rim. in your testimony, you suggest using more buses to transport visitors into national parks. could the national park service be doing more to promote park and ride services in communities
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that neighbor national parks such as tucson, arizona? >> yes. i think one example could be yosemite, where the shadows can start outside of the park and come in. you know, there are a couple other examples of that and kevin talked about the island explorer in acadia as well. the issue is, sometimes, you are still increasing the volume into a park so you really need to look at how many people you are still bringing in via shutter -- shuttle and how you are circulating them around the park and that is when social science will become really important. where are the shuttles taking folks and are we distributing the visitation throughout the park? but this is where we need your help, too. we have an infrastructure bill being crafted right now and we have been able to benefit -- the parks service has been able to benefit from money in the
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service transportation bill to purchase shuttles. and so, we really just need to make sure that we are looking at the surface transportation bill and the infrastructure proposal and adding in funds for transit for parks. or for transit for outside communities to use to bring people into parks. but it is a great system. i think it works in a lot of parks. i think we need to explore that in the parks that are getting serious overcrowding but i would just say, in grand canyon, where people get dropped off, and making sure we are to folks around the park, is going to be important. >> i look forward to working with your office and solving some of these issues. thank you. senator james. >> chairman, thank you. one of my priorities in this committee has been finding ways to encourage visitation to some of our lesser-known parks. this relieves pressure on the big parks while boosting visitation at these hidden gems. question, mr. reynolds.
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any additional thoughts on what the parks service is doing to provide increased visibility of some of these lesser visited parks? >> first off, on a broader scale, senator, trying to highlight them in some of the public newsletters that might go out to different web publications or personal apps. have you ever heard of this place? this is what it does. star some campaigns working with our communications office here in washington as well to make sure these lesser-known parks, which are also stories -- american stories -- are told. the other thing we ask our superintendents in parks with lower visitation numbers is to be very aggressive with their education and outreach, to -- to particularly work with local communities around them and regional tourism boards to help them highlight their sites. and then we are encouraging more and more special events or certain educational programs that would be, i guess you could call them niche opportunities to
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see things. the ranch could be highlighting the life and art of the cowboy of the west and that may attract a certain number of people that did not even realize a working ranch as part of the national parks system. >> it seems like visitors are intrigued by getting off the beaten path and finding those areas that there may be a little less discovered, relatively speaking, and think of the chairman mentioning this example where there was a recommendation. have you thought about this other location, whether it is a restaurant or perhaps another national park? i guarantee if we were to do a car to car survey of those who were waiting in line at glacier park and say have you ever heard of grant course national park? i'm guessing the awareness of that park would be in the single digits at best. >> senator, we often say -- we use indicators and standards. we will use that as an indicator
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to see how we are doing. >> see what kind of name id they have there. back on the issue of innovation, and the chairman alluded to this. it has been talked about already. the private sector has been using technology innovation to solve the challenge we are talking about here today for a long time, whether it is a theme park on the hotels, campgrounds, highways, successfully using new and innovative ways to drive visitors to specific places at specific times. even with traffic, mentioned a waze app. what can the park service do to better tap into that success? i don't think we have to reinvent much. i think there is something that can be done more cost-effectively and have a better outcome to address what we are talking about today by the use of technology. >> i think this is one of our challenges. there is funding challenges, logistics. we are park people, not
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necessarily programmers. we have a lot of friends, allies, and stakeholders that can help us in this, senator, and that is what we need to do, to be pushing ourselves to find ways, you know, in all the legal mechanisms and agreements, to work with those already doing these things and tag onto our existing infrastructure. >> i think some of these public-private partnerships like find your parks, they have been successful in helping drive visitation to new parks. i think there's a lot of folks who want to help us solve this problem to improve the user experience and help the businesses that surround gateway communities as well. >> there will be places that have the bandwidth and infrastructure, just trying to start where we have that ability. as you know, working with the superintendent, he is working on some mechanisms with the private sector to help fund it, basically, and put some more
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broadband infrastructure. can be in yellowstone. some people are very grateful for this, and be completely off line, but there are some applications were, to your point. ask we do not want people going home from an experience with a negative kind of rating because of lack of access or lack of planning and having a poor experience. i think it is beneficial to get repeat visitation and want people to go back home to tell their 10 friends and neighbors hear about what a wonderful experience they had with our parks. >> i know a number of professionals and the national park service that would love to sit down with anyone you might suggest a senator, to talk about that. ask mr. chairman. -- >> mr. chairman. >> i appreciate the witness's testimony today and i would like to refer to a line in testimony which jumped out to me. he said the law of supply and demand does not apply here. the demand is there but we cannot build more glacier parks.
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well, perhaps we need to bear that in mind as this committee and subcommittee considers new proposals for parks. across the country. there is a demand and it is increasing in all the ideas we have talked about today, spreading the visitation out, reservation systems in certain situations, shuttle buses in other situations. as we all learned, there is no single solution, but one additional solution is to provide additional opportunities for people to enjoy these extraordinary places in our country. i want to thank all of our witnesses for your testimony today, and i want to be clear that we will have a period that the committee may submit additional questions in writing. if so, we would ask those members to submit those for the record until 6:00 p.m. tomorrow. we will keep the record open. and we will keep the hearing
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record open for two weeks to receive additional comments. as those of you who participated in our hearing today reflect upon our experience and you have additional thoughts, please supply them to the committee. as i sat at the beginning, we are not starting this hearing with predetermined legislation. we are starting this hearing with predetermined -- a predetermined problem we want to address on behalf of the american people. so thank you again to our witnesses, to my vice chair, and this meeting has adjourned. [gavel] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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[chatter]
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>> thank you so much.
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>> thank you.
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subcommittee, this is an hour and 15 minutes. >> without objection, recess at any time can be clearer declared. the committee is being recorded and i want to announce a couple of reminders to them members. please keep video on as long as you are present here. you are responsible for your own microphone, keep your microphones muted unless you are speaking and finally, if members

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