THE SAINT CROIX RIVER CROSSINGIt is unfair to characterize GOP presidential candidate Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann as "Cute as a lady bug and dumb as a cinder block". True, she has, like former President Bush, a natural exuberance and enthusiasm that sometimes outrun her thought processes. During her Tea Party rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union Address, she described as how our Founding Fathers were actively working for the defeat of slavery. No, Michelle, the Founding Fathers did many things, but fighting slavery was not one of them.
She is, however, a clever woman and to characterize her otherwise would be incorrect.
Through no particular fault of her own, aside from being there, she has managed to get herself crossways with America's most beloved Federal Agency, the National Park Service in the form of the Saint Croix Wild & Scenic River.
Briefly, she would like to build a bridge in her congressional district across the Saint Croix River to replace a dangerously elderly (built 1931) span that is at overcapacity and is rated as MORE decrepit than was the Interstate 35 Bridge that famously collapsed in 2007 sending 13 people to their deaths in the Mississippi River.
Now there's nothing wrong with building a bridge; that's what politicians do for their constituents.
The only problem is that the new bridge would traverse a portion of the St. Croix Wild & Scenic River and, according to a federal court decision, that would be an unacceptable visual intrusion into the Wild & Scenic River as it would be an immense super highway type bridge, not just spanning the St. Croix River, but running from bluff to bluff above the flood plain of the Saint Croix. It would cost a respectable 700 million Tea Party dollars (and rising).
Now the NPS is not directly involved in the sense that the Superintendent of St. Croix is lying down in front of Michelle's bulldozer. Readers will note that at one time, the NPS offered no particular objection to the bridge, rather it was a federal court decision that forced the NPS to withdraw its finding of No Significant Impact.
To be fair to Michelle, that area of the Saint Croix Wild & Scenic River is part of the heavy industrial suburbs of the Twin Cities megalopolis of Minneapolis-St. Paul. One of the visual features of the area is a sewerage treatment plant; another scenic feature is a coal fired power plant with a 700-foot chimney. "Wild & Scenic" is diluted here to the point of homeopathic medicine.
That said, we have Michelle's response to the court decision, which is co-sponsoring an Act of Congress (HR-850) that would reinstate the NPS 2005 finding of No Significant Impact and then go ahead and build her bridge.
Not so fast, Michelle!
We have several problems here; one of them is "Image"; both aesthetic and philosophical.
Quick, all you NPS historical architects! "What is the ugliest structure in the world?
George Orwell of "1984" fame voted for the famed Gaudi Basilica of The Holy Family in Barcelona as the world's ugliest structure.
However, most critics would nominate the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is a naked confection of late 19th century gingerbread iron work with all the subtlety of an oil derrick. And yet it is completely and totally the symbol of Paris; a signature image known to billions across the globe. It totally dominates the city of Paris.
That is what the Michelle Bachmann Memorial Bridge will do: It will dwarf everything from horizon to horizon. It will be one of the Seven Wonders of Minnesota!
Proponents of the Bridge will say that dwarfing the sewerage treatment plant and power plant chimney is not a bad idea.
Others are not so sure.
Michelle's neighbor lady, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) in the next Congressional district opposes the Bachmann Bill (As a fellow Midwesterner, I get the feeling that Betty really doesn't like Michelle; she doesn't come right out and say so but I get that feeling; they may have been on opposing cheerleading squads in high school).
Anyways, Betty says that Michelle's Bill, HR 850 would allow a potentially fatal exception to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, which protects 11,000 miles of 168 wild and scenic rivers of America, or only 1% of America's rivers, which Betty implies is not nearly enough.
To add irony to insult, The Saint Croix River was the first river in the Wild and Scenic River System.
In addition, Betty points out the high cost of the Michelle Bachmann Memorial Bridge; some 700 million dollars (I realize that supposed to be the Republican's line, but there is a certain Alice in Wonderland quality to politics in Minnesota).
So what does Betty propose? The present 1931 lift bridge is a rusting time bomb; something has to be done and soon or someone will be swimming in the Saint Croix in January.
This being unpredictable Minnesota, (Think former Governor Jesse Ventura) Betty, though a liberal Democrat has adopted a skinflint small town banker's take on this project. She reminds us that the 1-35 bridge across the Mississippi was replaced in record time for a mere 260 million dollars, of which 27 million was a bonus for early completion and the Mississippi is a much larger river than the Saint Croix.
The reason for the difference in cost is that's Betty's bridge would be a rather modest, even wimpy span that would just bridge the Saint Croix. The Michelle Bachmann Memorial Bridge, on the other hand, would soar. It would span the entire valley and flood plain of the Saint Croix. It would stretch majestically from bluff to bluff. It would be a tourist attraction unto itself. It would be magnificent! As if Stillwater, Minnesota had its own sphinx or pyramid!
Only the National Park Service stands in the way (Well, maybe the Sierra Club, a few other gopher groper nature outfits and, of course, spoilsport Betty McCollum (D-MN)
What if they won't budge? Is there an alternative?
That would be the Michelle Bachmann-Thunderbear Memorial Tunnel.
The National Park Service would have absolutely no objection to the Tunnel, as it would be literally "Out of sight, out of mind."
The Tunnel would seem to be the obvious choice; a real no brainer! Not only would here be no legal challenges from either the federal courts, the NPS, or the gopher gropers the Tunnel would be safe from the notorious Minnesota climate; this would mean that annual maintenance would be much lower than that of a bridge, plus the useful life of the tunnel would be much longer than that of a bridge, stretching into two centuries; dependent of course on whether people still wanted to cross the Saint Croix 150 years from now.
So why is there a problem?
Setting aside the aesthetic question of whether Michelle would like to have a bridge or a tunnel named after her, the main big, immovable objection to a tunnel would be the enormous coast.
The tunnel would cost at least $100 million more than the bridge and soil tests indicate mucky soil on the river bottom about 100 feet deep and not conducive to tunnel building, granting that that obstacle could be overcome. There would be the cost of ventilating and lighting the tunnel.
So who is going to pay for the $700 million dollar bridge or the $800 million tunnel?
Well now in the sunny, small town Disneyworld of Michelle Bachman and her tea Party Friends, when you have an infrastructure that needs replacin', you don't go askin' the Fedrul govmint fer a handout! No Siree! You jess get together with yer neighbors an....
Well, we could have bake sales at the local churches, or maybe pancake breakfasts or spaghetti feeds at the Volunteer Fire House, or a 10 K charity run, or...well, you see the possibilities are endless! We should have that 700 million raised in no time!
But the rusting time bomb is ticking. Michelle needs her bridge or tunnel now! The problem is also philosophical. The Michelle Bachman Memorial Bridge looks suspiciously like, well, pork.
Pork is something that Michelle and the Tea Party types have sworn off on. No taxes, no grandiose projects (Except well, when, maybe, special circumstances, whatever....)
Actually, we need pork. We need the total replacement of the aging American infrastructure and the near full employment it would bring.
The Great Depression was ended by "The Infrastructure Development and Full Employment Act of 1941", commonly known as World War II.
Mitch McConnell (R-KY), not the sharpest tool in the Senatorial Fire Cache, agrees, smugly pointing out that none of FDR's programs ended the Depression, but rather it was the War.
Duh! Yeah, Mitch! The War allowed unlimited federal spending, (and excess profits taxes) which finally jump started the economy and introduced decades of prosperity.
As the Second World War was, after all, destructive, the infrastructure produced was rather ephemeral. About all we have that is tangible from the Second World War is the Alcan Highway and the four Iowa Class Battleships (USS New Jersey, Iowa, Wisconsin and the iconic Missouri). All the rest, the thousands of B-26's B-29's, Sherman tanks, air craft carriers, and the like have long since been turned into beer cans and Chevrolets.
Unlike the Second World War, replacing our infrastructure (with the imprimatur of an Environmental Impact Statement on each project of course,) will provide us with a product that will have a useful life of 100 to 150 years, a true investment in the future!
By making the the Saint Croix River Crossing part of a huge federal infrastructure bill, we would not be placing Congresswoman Bachmann in the unfortunate position of looking like she was hankering for pork. The Saint Croix River Crossing would be just one of hundreds perhaps thousands of infrastructure projects.
So which of the crossings does THUNDERBEAR favor?
We prefer the tunnel as it is the least visually and environmentally intrusive.
But it is also the most expensive.
But not by much!
Besides, we at THUNDERBEAR subscribe to the economic theory that "You can afford anything you can make or produce domestically."
The US rather famously cannot produce enough domestic oil and must import oil, driving up our debt. If we were able to produce oil from renewable, domestic sources, we would be ahead of the game, even if domestic gasoline sold at $5.00 a gallon.
But what does that have to do with the THUNDERBEAR choice of the tunnel?
Just this. As you know, the cantilever portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is being replaced, due to earth quake damage. Good news!
The bad news is that the bridge will be made in China, shipped to San Francisco and reassembled. We will be "saving" 300 million dollars. We are not so sure about that "saving" in the long run, which is why we favor the tunnel.
The Chinese are an ingenious and resourceful people, but even they cannot build a portable tunnel!
For that reason, every penny spent on the MICHELLE BACHMAN-THUNDERBEAR MEMORIAL TUNNEL will be spent in the United States.
Let's start digging, Michelle!
ON PRIVACYExactly how much privacy is a public employee entitled to?
Well now, neighbors! That is an interesting question?
When I was drafted into Freedom's Army, I was first made a "private". That was the first of many ironies; there was nothing private about being a private. It was the most public role imaginable; with one's person, belongings, and opinions open to inspection by people you would not normally choose as friends
That is one aspect of privacy, or the lack of it.
There are gradients of course; the comfort level of privacy boundaries differs with different cultures and different people.
However, even howling extroverts like Sarah Palin, who border on the exhibitionistic have their limits when it comes to the bounds of privacy. You will recall that Palin famously (and correctly) objected when a creepy left wing journalist rented the house next to hers for the purpose of observing her and her family. For the record, both Palin and your esteemed editor, The Christian Bureaucrat, are deemed "public persons." (That and $4.25will get you a" Big Mac" in any McDonalds in the nation.) Now, due to a certain level of notoriety in our respective fields, Sarah and I are judged not easily embarrassed and thus have less right of privacy than the average citizen. (I suspect that both Sarah and I would agree with the punch line of Abe Lincoln's favorite joke "If it wasn't for the honor of the thing, I'd just as soon walk!")
So how much right to privacy does a civil servant (that would be you) have a right to expect?
The answer, in certain circumstances, is not much.
Those circumstances would be that of a Protection Ranger in a national park where he/she would be on call 24/7, not only at the pleasure of his/her supervisors, but by the frightened and confused general public who have the right to pound on said ranger's door at 2 am to solve some real or imagined problem.
In such situations, there is generally some sort of quid pro quo; the ranger is given reduced rent or free occupancy or some sort of reward for the inconvenience of responding to some hair-raising situation at an unchristian hour.
However, what about "normal duty hours", say between 8 and 5? What right of access does the taxpaying public, including journalists, have to your wisdom and expertise?
Well now, that's an interesting question, neighbors!
According to The Society of Professional Journalist's Code of Ethics (Yes, Virginia! Like lawyers, journalists really DO have a Code of Ethics!) Us Journalists must "recognize that private people have greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials, and others who seek power, influence, or attention (That would be Sarah and me). Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy."
Note the weasel sentence in bold face that allows the supple journalist to do a little justifyin' and intrudin'.
Also, according to the Professional Journalist's Code of Ethics, the journalist must not lie or cheat (except when REALLY, REALLY necessary!). "Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story."
Noting that weasel qualifier in bold, you might begin to think that journalistic ethics are as flexible as politician's ethics and you would be right.
So does the public official have any rights that a journalist is bound to respect? Are you not, after all, a "public official" and thus fair game?
Well now, your kindly editor believes you have the right to see us coming.
That is, I believe I should identify myself as a journalist before you start talking and that I should say I am "doing a story" and for which magazine.
This permits you to shut up and graciously pass me on to the Park Public Information Officer, who presumably, has been trained to avoid the snares and pitfalls laid by us journalists.
Other than that, do public officials have any special rights to privacy, particularly when on duty?
Your kindly editor had an opportunity to investigate that interesting question one rainy day in November.
I was driving one of the parkway roads in the Washington, DC area and on impulse decided to visit one of the units of the National Capitol Region of the NPS.
It was one of those early winter days that the East Coast does all too well. Most of the leaves were off the damp black tree branches and the day's scenario couldn't quite decide on rain, snow or sleet.
I was returning from an errand with plenty of time to spare. On impulse I decided to exit the parkway and investigate a small NPS site that I had never visited.
A short drive through the recovering second growth woodland brought me to the park visitor center. The only car in the parking lot would be mine. The center was small, but made visitor friendly by a real log fire and the presence of a most agreeable ranger at the information desk.
I had lucked into a winter "golden hour." It was mid-week and for some reason, no one had scheduled back to back school or cub scout tours. I was the only visitor and the ranger at the info desk was rested and wanted to talk and I was delighted to listen.
One advantage of active listening, in addition to learning quite a bit, is the other person, the one doing the talking, gradually comes to the conclusion that you are quite intelligent and a brilliant conversationalist, when all you have done is ask questions at strategic moments, murmur appreciatively, and remained attentive.
As some of my questions indicated a passing knowledge of the environment and the national parks, it was only natural for the ranger to inquire as to my background and line of work.
Now neighbors, I don't know about you, but I am a bit reluctant to inform an active NPS employee that I am an Alumnus of that storied agency.
Because you are forced into what I call The Litany. You will invariably be asked what parks you worked at, and when. If, for example, you worked in Hell's Garden National Monument, you will then be asked if you knew Ranger Mortimer Glockstein. Even though you hated Glockstein, your answer must be guarded as you may be talking to a friend or relative of good ol' Morty.
So what do I tell rangers?
The truth and shame the Devil, neighbors! I simply tell them that I am an inquiring journalist, a humble writer, which is the truth.
In this case, the word "writer" acted like the spring on a mousetrap.
No sooner than I uttered that literary word, a middle-aged man in uniform darted from an office. He had obviously been listening to the conversation.
"I'm the park superintendent!" He said in a somewhat belligerent tone, as if I might challenge that assertion.
We shall call him "Superintendent Bartlett" as he was somewhat pear shaped.
"I hear you're writing a book about my park," he inquired with bureaucratic joviality.
In Bartlett's case, "hearing" was literally eavesdropping, but was quite legal. Bartlett was certainly more literarily ambitious for me than I was. In my conversation with the ranger, I had made no mention of writing a book on the park, merely that I was a writer.
"If you going to write about the park, I'd like to check it over first for accuracy." said Bartlett.
That, fortunately, would not be necessary, thanks to James Madison.
James Madison had realized that generations of "authorities," uniformed and otherwise, would love to "check it over" make sure that the written word was "accurate" according to their version of the truth, and no other versions permitted. For this reason, Madison drafted the First Amendment to provide Freedom of Speech and thwart the "authorities."
This has annoyed no end of "authorities" both elected and self-ordained, who feel they can't do their job, defend their God, or protect the Republic unless they can censor somebody.
"Accuracy" is always the big shibboleth of "Authorities."
"We wouldn't dream of censoring you," they plead, "but you DO want your facts straight don't you?"
Ah, but are your "facts" really that?
As Senator Patrick Moynihan once trenchantly observed "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts." That is, something is either true or it is not.
Clearly, from the body language of the info desk ranger, Superintendent Bartlett was a bit of a micromanager, and he feared that some cat was out of the bag and an indiscreet staff member might have revealed that some of the inner secrets of Shady brook National Monument. Were the park chipmunks unhappy? Had the Monarch butterflies decided to boycott the park on their annual migration? Something was making Superintendent Bartlett nervous.
"What did I plan to write about?" he persisted.
Bartlett had caught me off guard. I had not planned to write about anything. I had visited the park out of mere curiosity.
However, I had claimed to be a writer. I should want to write about SOMETHING. If not, what was I doing here?
"Well, "I'd like to do an article on your staff members. They are very sharp and knowledgeable, judging from Ranger X," I replied, nodding to the interp ranger, who visibly wanted off the hook.
Superintendent Bartlett's face narrowed perceptively, his mouth pursed in denial.
"You can't do that! It is not permissible!" He said, with uncompromising finality.
I was struck by the vehemence of his denial of permission.
Why not? I thought to myself. Is the entire staff under some sort of federal witness protection program? An amazing thought! What if everyone in the park, from the superintendent down to the janitor was an ex-mobster, mafia hit man, or Al-Qaeda informant? What a brilliant idea! Hiding people in plain sight! Why not? It had worked for Osama Bin Laden! What a great plot device! Ex-gangsters hiding out as staff of a national park unit! Not even Nevada Barr had come up with such story line!
Come to think of it, Superintendent Bartlett DID resemble Whitey Bolger as portrayed by Jack Nicholson in THE DEPARTED.
Discounting that remote possibility, I mischievously asked Bartlett if I could have a list of his staff members and their NPS office telephone numbers
The Superintendent was appalled. " CERTAINLY NOT!" He replied "THAT WOULD BE AN INVASION OF THEIR PRIVACY."
If that was the case, it was news to me, and also to WASO.
I had begun to suspect that Superintendent Bartlett was not the first number on the telephone tree when the Director of the NPS decided to pass the Word around.
"Do you have a computer? I asked innocently, "I would like to show you something."
Did the park have a computer? Is the pope Catholic?
The superintendent sat down at his computer awaiting instructions.
"Type in www.nps.gov/refdesk" The superintendent did so.
The header REFERENCE DESK" appeared with the familiar NPS logo.
There was a menu of options. One could find out about the history and mission of the NPS, or the visitation statistics or how to write the Director or Regional Director if something or someone provoked or pleased you; altogether, it was bureaucracy at its best.
What we were interested in was "People and places". I asked the superintendent to click on "People and places."
A series of boxes appeared. If you were wondering what had become of that nice ranger you met in Yellowstone a few years back, you could type in his first name and his last name, and depending if he/she was a permanent or long term seasonal, and was still with the NPS the person's NPS telephone number would appear (as well as the park they were working in) and you could call them up.
However, we were interested in something more comprehensive.
Bartlett had already noted that all the national park units were listed alphabetically, starting with "Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHS" and ending with "Zion National Park."
You simply scrolled down to the park of your choice.
Superintendent Bartlett was way ahead of me. He scrolled down to his park and clicked on "search."
Magically, an alphabetical list of all the employees of Shady Brook National, Monument appeared, including the name of Sam Bartlett, his title of superintendent, his office telephone number and his e-mail address.
Bartlett was totally dumbstartled.
"This is incredible!" He breathed. "This is on the internet! This information is available to anyone!"
That's right, Sam. Nothing is sacred, nothing is secret.
Indeed, if things were a bit slow in Havana or Pyongyang, Fidel Castro or "The Dear Leader" could muse, "I wonder what Sam Bartlett is up to?" or "Who is the Resource Manager in North Cascades National Park and type in www.nps.gov/refdesk and find out.
Invasion of privacy? No, your NPS e-mail address and NPS office telephone are, after all public information.
"People and Places" is also a great resource for the taxpayer. If the citizen has a special interest in, say, exotic species control, the citizen can review the position titles in the various parks and come up with the names, e mail addresses and office phone numbers of people who might be able to provide information on exotic species control or just about any other topic under the sun.
As Dr. Robin Winks famously observed. "The National Parks are a great university with 394 campuses."
"Reference Desk" and "People and Places" gives us an opportunity to meet the professors
CAMPING IN NEW YORK CITY NATIONAL PARK
Recently, the Secretary of the Interior came up with an innovative program for camping on public lands in New York City.
According to a press release "The National Park Service will develop the nation's largest urban campground at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, a former airport now a unit of Gateway National Recreation area. The campground may ultimately grow to 600 sites."
"You don't even realize you're camping in the middle of a city," Salazar said. "We want to make New York the leading example of what we can do around the country with urban parks."
Secretary Salazar and his minions are to be commended! It has been a long time coming that the public be finally granted access to the urban wilderness of New York City and other metropolitan areas.
Campgrounds in New York City will fill an economic and aesthetic need for the adventurous camper.
Contrary to popular opinion, New York City is not a particularly expensive place to visit, with one exception; that exception being hotel accommodations.
Unlike Los Angeles, New York City is a very compact walking town. In addition, public transport is cheap, frequent, and goes everywhere; a Sierra Club dream come true, only right now. Food in New York can be as expensive as you can imagine or desire, but it can also be cheap and delicious due to the competition from literally hundreds of ethnic restaurants. Should you be gastronomically miserly, you can put together a picnic lunch from one of the famed New York Delis and eat it in one of the numerous city parks.
As in life itself, some of the best things in New York City are free or very affordable.
The aforementioned exception is housing. You may quite literally need to take out a loan to stay in a New York City Hotel; that is, you will not be able to pay your credit card off in full at the end of the month due to your enormous hotel bills and thus be subject to extortionate credit card fees.
We country bumpkins in the hinterland were as much shocked by that French socialist's $2,000 a night hotel bill as the charge that he allegedly raped the maid as a lagniappe.
"Normal" hotel prices in NYC do not decline all that much from the $2,000 asked by Monsieur Strauss-Kahn's hotel, when you start looking for something affordable. My wife thought we could score tickets for the hit Broadway musical THE BOOK OF MORMON and stay the night in downtown Manhattan. She paged down through hotel offerings that resembled the down payment on a car, looking for "Normal" Midwestern rates. By the time, she got down to what she considered a normal rate, the bathroom would be down the hall and the clientele would not be normal.
Now the first Director of the National Park Service, Steven Tyng Mather, had already figured out this problem long before New York City became a National Park. Mather was a Progressive Republican. (I realize that sounds like an Oxymoron; but there was a time when a segment of the G.O.P. stood for something other than Selfishness, Greed & Ignorance.)
Anyways, Mather had the idea that all Americans had the right to visit our national parks, regardless of income. So he proposed baronial hotels like Yosemite's "Ahwanee" for rich folks like himself; Spartan, but comfortable log cabins for the middle class and, for those with either a cash flow problem or an intense love of "roughing it" a plot of land with a privy and a pump, where the "sage brushers" as campers were called back then, could unfurl their canvas tents, Dutch ovens and ever present huge blue speckled enameled coffee pots. Everybody was happy.
Now that New York City, or at least significant parts of it is a national park, Secretary Salazar has decided to extend Steve Mather's vision to the Big Apple and make the town economically accessible for everyone. And it's about time.
Is there an urban precedent?
Sure is, neighbors!
Washington, DC is a little cheaper than New York City but not by much. The NPS and Eleanor Roosevelt decided to make the nation's capitol affordable for everyone
Greenbelt Park in suburban Maryland is the NPS pioneer urban family campground and the best kept camping secret in the Park System. Greenbelt Park has 175 campsites that rent for a reasonable $16 a night ($8 if you have a Golden Age Passport) and hot showers are available. The campground is a two-mile walk to the College Park Metro Station, about a leisurely, leafy 40 minutes each way. The College Park Metro opens all of DC with it's mostly free monuments and museums to you and your family. After a hearty, informative day of day packing through DC (bag lunch at the Panda Quarters at the National Zoo) then hike back home, make dinner and then discuss the day's adventure and tomorrow around the campfire before turning in.
It doesn't get much better (or much cheaper). Thank Eleanor Roosevelt and Harold Ickes, and of course, our National Park Service for your camping good fortune.
Can the Greenbelt Park experience be translated to New York City?
Don't see why not, neighbors.
However, new York being New York, The Administration of Gateway NRA will be faced with what might be called "Big Apple Logic"; that is, since hotel rates run an extortionate $400-$2,000, it logically figures that camping rates should run, oh, $100 to $150 per night. No?
No, it doesn't. Greenbelt Park fees of $16 will be just fine, thank you. Anything more will smack of fraud and collusion. (Oh, all right, maybe we can go up to the Yosemite Valley campground rate of $20 a night, but not a penny more!)
Now it's here that we might run into a little philosophical disagreement. Say, for example that you are a Tea Party Intellectual (Not necessarily an oxymoron, neighbors, there is some sort of twisted logic in their thought processes somewhere.) As a tea party member, you might say that Secretary Salazar is dead wrong; that the NPS has no business being in the urban camping business; that it is a sin to deprive Donald Trump and his friends of whatever cash they can gouge out of tourists passing through New York; that the only job of Gateway National Recreation Area is to provide access to recreation.
Well now neighbors, thanks to the evil, socialistic provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972, you can now paddle a kayak or canoe in New York City without having the paddles dissolve. Today, there are even people who swim in New York Harbor, but they are more optimistic than I am.
Due to the former extreme pollution, few people, even natives, knew or cared what a water city New York really is; in the bad old days, the surrounding water was something you avoided, quite literally, like the plague.
Nowadays, one of the major hazards to boaters is not pollution, but floating wooden pilings from abandoned piers. The reason for their presence is healthy water. In the bad old days, pollution killed all life including the teredos or shipworms that preyed on wooden pilings, now the teredos and other sea life are back.
A casual glance at a map of New York City will tell you that you could visit all five of the Burroughs of New York City via Kayak, PROVIDING you have a spot to camp at night. This is where Gateway NRA and its campgrounds would come in (with an assist from the New York City Parks in the case of the Bronx).
What is it like kayaking the Big Apple?
Like nothing else, neighbors.
Let's join Ranger Maria Annobel on a classic Kayak adventure, the circumnavigation of Manhattan Island.
Adventure wise, the Manhattan Circumnavigation is the rough East Coast equivalent of the climb up the chains to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. Both are strenuous, both require a certain amount of physical fitness and both can get you killed. The Circumnavigation requires a bit more technical savvy on the part of at least one member of the party due to tides and currents. Other than that, they are similar in effort. Hundreds do them every year, but it is still an unforgettable accomplishment.
Maria worked at Fire Island National Seashore, where she got interested in sea kayaking (and also ran across an old copy of THUNDERBEAR).
Let's ask her a few questions:
TB: What (or who) gave you the idea of circumnavigating Manhattan?
MARIA: Good question! Not sure. The idea seemed to grow organically into shape and to emanate from the same source as my desire to explore Manhattan completely "on foot", As soon as I realized that one can do it, I wanted to circumnavigate Manhattan, though I knew it would take some doing, specifically dealing with the currents and tides of the different water bodies.
TB: What is the circumference of Manhattan Island and how long did it take?
MARIA: We paddled 32 miles, it took us 12 hours.
TB: What was the make and length of your kayak
MARIA: I paddled a 16-foot Squamish, by Current Designs; my kayaking buddy, Fabrice paddled a ten-foot pelican Sport recreation kayak without a skirt.
TB: What supplies did you take?
MARIA: Just the basics: water, energy bars, a pump, paddle float, rope and PFD. After my husband Charles and I had loaded the kayaks onto my car, I followed a primordial instinct and tossed in a roll of silver duct tape.
TB: Where did you put in?
MARIA: Charles and I live in Westchester County, NY. The next county north of the Bronx. Fabrice lives in Manhattan. We arranged to start and end our trip at Inwood Hill Park, a gorgeous wooded city park on the northern end of Manhattan. This well used park advertised a kayak launch at Dyckman Pier. In fact, we found it gated and padlocked, but we were able to carry our gear down to the beach by ducking under and over the barbed wire fence.
TB: What, if anything, went wrong.
MARIA: Fabrice's kayak is equipped with what is called a drain plug. Well, it was supposed to be. The drain plug was located on the upper deck of the bow. At some point in its history, the drain plug had been lost and replaced by some squashed up corrugated cardboard. On flat water, it may not matter whether the drain plug is plugged or not. In the choppy Hudson, and without a skirt, the deck often dipped up and down in the water as Fabrice paddled. About an hour and a half after we started as we were nearing the 79th St. Pier, Fabrice asked me in his French accented English "Can I have the pump, please?"
I thought at first he just wanted to pump out water that had splashed in due to the lack of a spray skirt, but after he pumped the water out, it refilled almost instantly and he and the kayak sank straight down. Fortunately, it was flat water and next to a marina, so rescuing him and the kayak was relatively. Fabrice is an Olympic level white water kayaker back in France, so he was really embarrassed. Fortunately, I had that roll of duct tape and we taped up the drain plughole. Never leave home without duct tape!
TB: Did the water seem clean?
MARIA: The Hudson, yes. In fact, by New York City is where it is mixed with the most ocean water and smells salt. Would not like to have had to swim in either the East or Harlem Rivers (signs warning of sewage overflow were everywhere on the piers /walls. I imagine warning any boaters who might be fishing)."
TB: What were the outstanding sights/ experiences?
MARIA: The entire thing was one long, dazzling, living postcard of NY landmarks. We paused to take snapshots of various symbolic places such as the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, Rykers Island; we lunched under the Brooklyn Bridge on a beach full of old bricks from the former ABC Brick factory. We met up with Fabrice's wife and children, thanks to his constant updating with his blackberry, though they were too high up for us to interact. There were so many people out enjoying barbecues, fishing, running, walking with their families and dogs along the parks of the waterfront. Many of these people tried to communicate with us, ask us where they could rent kayaks etc.
TB: A long day's journey around the island. Were you exhausted by the time you arrived back at Dyckman Pier where you put in?
MARIA: Not really. I didn't feel tired. I actually felt kind of a high. I don't want to say it was the equivalent of a runners high because I don't know what physiology was going on; the spray of positive ions from the salt spray may have enhanced the feeling, as did the number of friendly interactions with other peoples outdoors in the city. I certainly felt very positive and high-spirited during the entire day. I was not conscious of "exercising" only of exploring, taking a trip or tour of the island. I only felt the need to focus on my paddling during an intense stretch of the East River when the current was against us and strong, and technical; and that was O.K. because it was the feeling of overcoming challenge.
Well now, neighbors, there you have it! One of the great Kayak day trips in the world! "One long, dazzling living postcard of New York landmarks!" (Maria has a way with words!)
So what has this to do with camping in New York City? Well, most people would like to start their circumnavigation of Manhattan by simply getting out of their tent, having breakfast and shoving off in their kayak rather than bothering with New York traffic.
Can this be done? Sure can! If you check the map of New York harbor, you will notice an island off the tip of Manhattan. It is called Governors Island. It used to be owned by the US Coast Guard. It is now owned (at least part of it) by our very own National Park Service, which is overseen by Secretary of the Interior Salazar, the very same chap that is interested in developing urban camping, and the island is plenty big enough for a campground.
Now is it important in the long trek of World History that people are able to go kayaking and camping in New York City?
Well yes, neighbors, indeed it is. Kayaking and camping are a small but important part in the evolution of the City as a viable, acceptable way of life and a place to voluntarily stash a whole lot of people in a very small space.
You will remember Henry David Thoreau's off quoted bromide "In wildness is the Preservation of Mankind."
When you think about it, there is a possible flip side to that quote: "In Cities is the Preservation of Wildness."
The more people move to cities, the more land can be left to forests, savannah, and wilderness. 9 million people in New York City means 9 million people who are not trying to live in what is now Adirondack State Park. 30 million people in Mexico City are 30 million that are not trying to make a living growing corn in the Sierra Madre, 23 million people in Shanghai mean that the ambitious proposal for vast new parks and nature reserves in Western China will not be swamped by people.
Fortunately, cities have always been popular with the human race You may recall St. Paul's boast in the New Testament that he was a big city boy from Tarsus "No mean city". (Acts 29:31). Cities have always attracted the best and the brightest and it is in the environment's interest as well as our own that they continue to do so.
Camping and Kayaking are just another amenity to make New York and other cities even more desirable.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary! (And Gateway NRA Superintendent Linda Canzanelli as well!)
THE SAFETY MESSAGEAh! You have found it! What you have been dutifully and piously searching for! The Safety Message! This is the sole reason you have accessed THUNDERBEAR on government time! It is not your fault that its perfidious editor places The Safety Message at odd and unpredictable points in each issue, forcing you to wade through possibly heretical opinions in your search for information on the Number one job of the NPS, which is, as we all know, Safety & Loss Control. You can now rest easy, you have found it.
Sooner or later, if you live in the East or Southeast, you are going to have to deal with the masked bandit in the attic.
Yup! Eventually, even if you have done everything right, a raccoon will find its way into the attic crawl space or under the shed. Can't really blame them, they don't like being wet and cold any more than you do.
How will you know? That's the easy part. Unless you believe in ghosts dragging chains, there has to be a reason for that incessant Bump! Thud! in the night.
Are they dangerous? Not directly, unless they are rabid.
What do you mean, "Not directly"
Well, neighbors like that of many species of wildlife, raccoon poop is HAZMAT.
Your kindly editor found this out first hand. Our winter tenant had been a bit remiss in letting us know that a winter storm had created an ice dam which in turn caused an opening in the soffit between roof and wall and provided entrance into the nice warm crawl space, which was soon occupied by a raccoon (fortunately, it was a boar raccoon). The coon had been in there for about two months. Raccoons are not housebroken, you do the math.
Getting rid of the coon is no particular problem. You get the loan of a HAV A HEART trap (the big one) from your county animal control. Your only outlay will be the cost of a can of sardines. (It is bait they absolutely cannot resist, even though intellectually they realize walking into a steel and wire enclosure is not a good business plan.)
County animal control is understandably vague about what you should do with your newly acquired animal friend. They just want their trap back, empty. Let your conscience be your guide.
The next step will be the expensive one. You will have to replace your insulation and clean out the entire raccoon poop, because, as mentioned, it is HAZMAT.
Why is raccoon poop HAZMAT? Because the poop is packed with Raccoon round worm eggs. Like most really successful parasites, the raccoon round worm doesn't bother the raccoon host all that much. However, if it gets into the wrong host, that is, you, it doesn't know what to do; so it heads for your brain and starts to eat the brain cells. If you get enough of them in your brain, you will soon be as rational as a Washington politician and start developing attendant personality disorders.
The folks who, for a price, harvested our raccoon poop and lay down new insulation all wore moon suits, possibly an overkill, but considering the consequences, I don't blame them.
So, consider all wildlife waste within a confined space to be potential hazmat (think Hanta virus which has carried off at least one ranger) and treat accordingly, with gloves, respirators, and frequent hand washing and showers.
THE MOST MYSTERIOUS NATIONAL PARK PART II
Readers of Part I in issue #287 will recall that your editor and his spouse are journeying to Santa Cruz Island, a unit of Channel Island National Park (CHIS) aboard the good ship ISLAND PACKER. We planned to explore some of the sea caves via kayak. You will recall from Part I of "The Most Mysterious National Park" in issue #287, that sea caves are to Channel Islands National Park what geysers are to Yellowstone National Park; they are world class: of the 93 longest sea caves yet discovered, 41 are in Channel Islands National Park; 25 of them on Santa Cruz Island.
It was a crisp, bright mid April day, with both sky, sea, and lands each doing their thing absolutely perfectly in glorious sunshine. It was, in short, a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC DAY. These are the days that the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC takes the photos for its magazine. It is almost always sunny in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and there is no apparent wind or bugs. They could do an article on the Aleutian Islands and it would be sunny.
However, after the First of April, you can legitimately expect those NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Southern California beach days, sunny with a polite time out for the fog in the morning. (Actually, a month long time out called "June gloom" in which sea and land temperatures battle for ascendancy in the Fog War.)
Santa Cruz Island was heaving its tawny green-brown shoulders out of the sea directly ahead of the ISLAND PACKER. At 22 miles long and 2 to 6 miles wide, Santa Cruz's 61,764.6 acres make it the largest island in the 8 island Channel Island archipelago. Santa Cruz is also the most geographically varied, with two distinct mountain ranges and a central valley. One of the mountains, 2,450-foot Diablo Peak, is the highest mountain in the Channel Islands. One can see why Santa Cruz is regarded as "The Crown Jewel of the Channel Islands."
Ownership of this "Crown Jewel" is currently shared by The Nature Conservancy (76% of the Island) and The National Park Service (24%) Where is the NPS portion of the island? Well, the outline of Santa Cruz Island is roughly that of an angry goose swimming toward Los Angeles. The NPS 24% is roughly the head and neck.
So why isn't all of Santa Cruz Island part of Channel Islands National Park?
Well now, that's a very interesting question, and one that helps make CHIS such an interesting and mysterious park. We'll have to talk more about that!
Shortly however we will be entering the Scorpion Anchorage, Santa Cruz district ranger headquarters for the NPS and the place where we would meet our kayak guide from CAVERN CRUISERS. (Motto: "We're always first" and when it comes to advertising, they are correct.)
Don, our guide was waiting for us on the jetty at Scorpion anchorage. We introduced ourselves all around; there was only one other member in the party, a young salesman named Rob who had won the trip in a sales contest.
Don was your typical Southern California Adventure career person, right down to the blonde hair and the chipper optimistic Southern California accent. He was a graduate of the University of Santa Barbara in some vaguely environmental and not too employable major and was a ski instructor at Mammoth in the wintertime and guided kayak trips in the Channel Islands in the summer. The only apparent poison oak in his Garden of Eden was a serious girl friend that kept asking those serious, unanswerable questions like "Can you really do this forever?" and "Shouldn't you have a job with health insurance? Don had contemplated ending the disturbing questions by ending the relationship but had wisely decided to carry on with the girl. Man's fate is often determined by astute, practical women asking pithy economic questions along the lines of David Ricardo.
We were to learn all of the above and more in the course of our day with our friendly, extroverted guide.
Don introduced us to our gear; wet suits, pfds, hard hats, and sit upon kayaks.
First time summer visitors to Southern California will indignantly ask, "When does the ocean get warm"? The short answer is "Never!" Oh, it does warm a few degrees from instant cardiac arrest by the summer time, but you are going to need a wet suit for any extended time in the water. Naturally, as (hopefully) you will be on the kayak during your visit, the wet suit is worn open and half off unless your want a heat stroke.
The pfd or life jacket is required by law and is self explanatory, unless you are a 20 something male with a few beers in the cargo hold, in which the last words of "I don't need a life jacket, I can swim!" makeS as good a tombstone epitaph as any.
The hard hat is a bit of a surprise until you think about it. Sea caves are formed by the piston action of water in a confined space; a weak point in the cliff face. An incoming ocean swell will raise your buoyant kayak 6 feet or more in a matter of seconds. Your head is the highest point in the kayak and thus the first part of you to slam into the cave ceiling with the full authority of the Pacific behind it. You do want something intervening.
Actually, even with a hard hat, you really don't want head contact with the ceiling, as you would be risking neck or spinal injury. Therefore, Don taught us a reclining position that allowed one to fend off the ceiling with hands or paddle. (Avoid the forward or jackknife position.)
The kayaks were the standard extruded plastic tandem sit-upons that are common as grains of sand in every beach resort in the world; sturdy, broad beamed, difficult to capsize, cheap, slow and requiring minimal skill, they are the marine mules of the adventure tour trade.
My wife gazed upon the fleet with skeptical eye. "Do you have any with better back support?" she inquired.
She was right to do so. The "back support" was little better than a large cloth bandanna that could be adjusted across the lumbar area of the back.
Don was a bit chagrined, but not for long. He said with Southern California optimism that he could "cinch 'em tight" and all would be well. Joan was not entirely convinced. We have our own tandem kayak back home, but it has excellent adjustable molded plastic back supports, not a piece of cloth.
Well, we were here, so we would give it a shot, plus it was a glorious day.
We sat down by the kayaks for lunch before setting out to see the caves.
As we ate and talked, there was a slight, ever so slight, rustle in the brush, then an iridescent flash of russet copper and bluish gray. It was the apex land predator of the island. The critically endangered Santa Cruz Island Fox.
For somebody critically endangered, The Santa Cruz Island Fox is not at all shy. It emerged from the brush to have a better look at us.
The Channel Island Fox, of which The Santa Cruz Island fox is a subspecies, is the second smallest fox in the world, the title being held by the Fennec, a desert fox native to the Sahara. Each of the six main Channel Islands has its very own subspecies, the only ones of its kind in the world. (Anacapa and Santa Barbara Island are too small to have a permanent fox population.
The Santa Cruz Island Fox is an incredibly cute, friendly, and beautiful little predator about the size of your average house cat. It is not averse to humans and is easily tamed, leading one anthropologist to claim the foxes were actually feral house pets. That is, the ancient Chumash Indians transported them in their plank canoes to the various islands thousands of years ago, where some went feral and evolved into the 6 subspecies over thousands of years of isolation. Other scientists are not so sure.
Anyways, the Santa Cruz Island Fox recovery story is one of the great accomplishments of conservation biology and an honor and a feather in the cap of both The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service who worked together heroically to get the job done.
The story begins with the usual John Muir warning about " When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
In the Second World War, we perfected and mass produced a "miracle chemical" known as DDT which was said to be able to rid the world of one of God's many mistakes, the insects. At that time in history, our six legged brothers had very few defenders except for beekeepers and butterfly collectors, so we sprayed the stuff everywhere and on everything, even children. DDT began to sink deeply into every creature's inner being, and not just insects.
As John Muir predicted, unpleasant unforeseen things were going to happen.
Meanwhile, out on Santa Cruz Island, approximately 2,000 Santa Cruz Island foxes co-existed with a much smaller number of American Bald Eagles, the only other major predator on the island.
The Whiteman had introduced various forms of livestock, mainly sheep to the island. This apparently had no great effect on the little foxes; they were too small to be serious predators of the sheep, though they probably did benefit from the sheep afterbirth and occasional dead lamb.
The Bald Eagles were (and are) mainly fish eagles and left the foxes and sheep pretty much alone (though they were not adverse to a fox dinner from time to time. ) The Bald Eagles are extremely territorial and will drive other eagle species away. This is important.
However, as we know, the Bald Eagle is exquisitely sensitive to DDT. The chemical subtly interferes with the eagle's production of calcium, causing a critical shortage in egg shell formation, making for thin shelled, easily broken eggs, which effectively doomed the National Symbol to extinction on Santa Cruz and elsewhere.
Now if you were a thinking Santa Cruz Island Fox, you could be forgiven for uttering a sigh of relief, no need to worry about bald eagles anymore, we foxes are now the apex predators on the island.
But not for long. Nature abhors a vacuum.
Back on the mainland, Golden Eagles were getting weekly reports on conditions on Santa Cruz Island.
Now, Golden Eagles are the Republicans of the bird world: Pushy, opportunistic, aggressive, and above all, omnivorous. The Golden Eagle did not limit itself to a mainly fish diet, they would eat anything that moved.
The Golden Eagles learned that the American Bald Eagles were no longer present to defend the island (and indirectly, the foxes)
Just as important, the Golden eagles learned that thanks to human intervention a new, inexhaustible food source was now available on Santa Cruz.
The ranch owners, land rich and cash poor, cast about for ways to bring in extra money, they hit upon trophy hunting. "Hunt Russian wild boar with bow or rifle!" Wild pigs made an excellent commercial game animal as they were omnivores, good to eat, "sporty" to hunt, not impossibly elusive, and best of all, were prolific breeders, replicating themselves quickly to replace hunting loss and make more money for the ranchers.
As it turns out, wild pigs were also exactly what Golden Eagles had in mind as a food source.
Now nothing in North American wildlife, short of a bear, could or would want to take on a full-grown wild pig, but piglets were an entirely different matter. A Golden Eagle could zoom down out of the sky and make off with a piglet before an absent minded sow could do the arithmetic to see if any offspring were missing.
The absence of Bald Eagles and the presence little waddling tubes of protein! As Donald Trump might have said, it was too good a business opportunity for the Golden to overlook.
The Golden Eagles moved onto Santa Cruz Island in force.
The piglets were the primary objective of the Golden Eagles, but they would opportunistically prey on the foxes, which had no defense against the eagles.
The more piglets, the more eagles and therefore, the fewer Santa Cruz Island Foxes.
The fox population on Santa Cruz crashed to a low of ______
The two co-owners of Santa Cruz Island, The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service would have to act fast if the Santa Cruz Island Fox was to be saved from extinction.
As you can see, John Muir was right, it is a good idea to look around and think before you tamper with Mother Nature.
Now the Golden Eagle was a Native American species with theoretically as much right to be on Santa Cruz as the Bald Eagle or the fox. The idea would be not to kill the Golden Eagle, but to simply make it not worthwhile for them to remain on the island.
This was accomplished by striking at the Golden Eagles main food source, the wild pigs. The wild pigs of course were the only exotic among the four species at play, so there was no quarter offered.
A rather grim New Zealand firm was hired that will guarantee complete eradication of any island species that you deem needs extinction, be it rabbits, feral pigs or sheep or cats. A contract was issued on the pigs. By 2006, the last of them had been executed, 36,000 plus pigs on the TNC property and 9,270 on the NPS side; one of the greatest pig hunts in history.
The resident Golden Eagles, around 60, were live trapped and deported to the mainland and released.
To keep the Golden Eagles or their descendents from returning to the island, a breeding program to reintroduce the American Bald Eagle to Santa Cruz Island was instituted with candidates "recruited" from as far away as Alaska Fortunately, for all concerned, DDT, the original villain, had been banned for decades and the Bald Eagle has been making a steady recovery throughout its former range. There are now some 30 American bald Eagles now in residence on Santa Cruz.
The Golden Eagle and the American Bald Eagle are about equally matched in combat neither bird is inherently dominant.
However, the biologists of the TNC and the NPS had tipped the scales in favor of the Bald Eagle by eliminating the main food source of the Golden Eagle. That, combined with the vigorous territoriality of the Bald Eagle, will keep the Golden Eagle off Santa Cruz Island and preserve its beautiful little fox; putting John Muir's Universe back together again.
The Santa Cruz Fox began its recovery from a low of less than a hundred in the year 2000 to more than 700 in 2009.
Altogether, it is a noble story of two environmental agencies, one private, one public, working together successfully for a common goal; a bright and shining moment of reversal in the usual grim slide toward species extinction.
Watched by Santa Cruz Island Fox, we carried our kayaks down to the beach and pushed off into the Pacific.
(To be concluded in issue #289.)
THE BEAR GOES TO INTERIORPark Ranger Jim Tuck had retired from the National Park Service after a long and illustrious career in which he had accumulated numerous friends and admirers. He had also accumulated a full set of the print edition of THUNDERBEAR, from the very first issue until issue #233 when THUNDERBEAR soared off into cyberspace and became digital.
Like most of us of maturing vintage, Jim decided to simplify and downsize; one does not really need all the artifacts that one has acquired over a lifetime of living. One thing that could be downsized was Jim's complete set of THUNDERBEAR.
"Would I like to have it?" Jim asked me electronically.
That was very kind and I could hardly say no.
Of course, your most obedient servant, does have a complete set of print THUNDERBEARS.
John Muir's Alma Mater, the University of Wisconsin, also has a complete collection of print THUNDERBEARS.
The National Park Service has a complete print collection at its Harpers Ferry Center and various national parks have incomplete collections (check this)
What about the Department of Interior Library?
I happened to visit Main Interior on other business and checked in at the Library. As it turned out, they had a very meager number of THUNDERBEARS; in short, an incomplete collection. Now the Department of the Interior Library is one of the great federal departmental libraries, and is one of the unsung free visitor attractions of Washington, DC.
According to the Director of the DOI Library, George Franchois "It is the goal of the Library to have a copy of everything pertaining to the Department of Interior." That would include THUNDERBEAR.
So, I called Mr. Franchois and he agreed that it was unfortunate that the DOI Library did not have a full set of THUNDERBEARS and that he would be most grateful if Mr. Tuck would donate his collection to the Library. As I lived in the DC area, I was more than happy to facilitate the transfer.
So on a day that I had business in downtown DC, I put the rather hefty box of BEARS into a backpack and humped them from the Farragut North Metro station to Main Interior at 18th and C.
There was a predictable moment of low comedy in the lobby of Main Interior in which the contract guards thought that the guy with the beard and backpack had arrived to blow them up. (Rather than a turban, I was wearing my white cowboy hat, which should have identified me as one of the good guys.)
After eventually passing through security, Director Franchois accepted the Tuck Collection as the Library's latest acquisition in return for a nice letter to Jim thanking him for his donation.
Now why am I telling you this stuff? There is a reason, neighbors! There is a possibility that, like Jim Tuck, you too might have a complete (issue 1-233) of the hard copy run of THUNDERBEAR stored up in the attic or down in the basement. Spouses are always asking, "Do you (we) really need this junk?" Aside from irreverence toward The Sacred Text, the spouse has a point. If you have read each and every issue of the hard copy run of THUNDERBEAR, several times as have your friends and relatives, then it might be a plan to pass the collection on to a public Institution of Higher Learning.
You will note that the Midwest (University of Wisconsin) and the East Coast (DOI and Harpers Ferry) are pretty well covered. That leaves the Left Coast pretty much a barren wasteland as far as THUNDERBEAR is concerned.
For example, the University of Oregon has only an incomplete collection and the University of California hasn't even tried.
THEREFORE, if you have a THUNDERBEAR collection that you feel is taking up space, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-933-6931) and we'll see if we can't find a Pacific home for it.
Do you get anything out of this? You might. The university or library will send you a letter of thanks for your donation, which you can use to support a claim for a charitable deduction on your taxes.
Well, I don't rightly know neighbor. I heard somewhere that a mint condition, first edition of SUPERMAN comics went for around $10,000.
BOOK REVIEWTHE CASE OF THE INDIAN TRADER: Billy Malone and the National Park Service Investigation at Hubbell Trading Post: Paul D. Berkowitz, University of New Mexico Press, 2011.
Ostensibly, this is the story of a botched and grossly unfair criminal investigation of the activities of a trader at the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site.
Actually, it is as much an indictment of National Park Service's secretive corporate culture, in which not only the messenger bearing bad news is shot, but also the horse he/she rode in on and any bystanders unfortunate enough to get in the way.
Now the author, Paul Berkowitz is not some NEW YORK TIMES investigative reporter flitting between stories of corruption in Afghanistan and Grizzly management in Alaska with pretended omniscient deep understanding of any and all topics. Nor is he some bleeding heart New York liberal.
Rather, he is a more than 30-year veteran of National Park Service Law Enforcement. He has written a book on the history of criminal law enforcement on Federal Lands entitled THE LAW OF THE LAND and may indeed be the leading authority on the topic. Berkowitz is in short, what the courts would call an Expert Witness on the subject at hand.
This does not mean that he is universally admired. Berkowitz has a prickly, confrontational personality and makes enemies in high places with an almost joyous alacrity. One ranger describes him as a "hard nosed cop". Indeed, in his devotion to professional law enforcement; Berkowitz comes across more as Inspector Javert than as Ranger Rick.
However, unlike Inspector Javert, Berkowitz is a lawman with heart, conscience and wisdom.
Working as an NPS Special Agent in or near the Indian country of Northern Arizona, he was assigned to salvage a case against an Indian Trader that had gone awry. Due to a "Keystone Kop" initial raid and investigation as well as gaping missing links in the chain of evidence, the wheels were rapidly coming off the case.
Still, it was possible that veteran Agent Berkowtitz would be able the rebuild the government's case and pull the NPS fry bread out of the fire, providing, of course, that the defendant was guilty.
Like most cops, Berkowitz believed in guilty defendants. This was not because Berkowitz is some kind of fascist, but simple experience. Most people hauled into the criminal justice system usually ARE guilty of SOMETHING.
However, not too far into the case, Berkowitz came to believe that Billy Malone was innocent and that a grave injustice was being perpetrated.
But why was the NPS involved with an allegedly criminal Indian Trader?
Well now neighbors, as the mosaic of the 394 different units of the National Park are incredibly varied and exotic so too are the types of crimes and criminals. The NPS has alligator poachers in the Everglades, Galax thieves in the Great Smokies, ginseng rustlers in Shenandoah, pothunters in Mesa Verde and pot growers in Redwood; so perhaps a crooked Indian trader would not be too far fetched. but how did we get an Indian trader in the first place?
Well, a bit of creativity on the part of the NPS. Both Congress and Director George Hartzog wanted to preserve and tell the story one of the most romantic and colorful enterprises in the Old West, the story of the legendary Navajo Indian Trader.
The Navaho trader, usually a Whiteman, but often married to a Navajo, lived and presided over a lonely general store located beyond paved roads in the most picturesque hellandgone places of the Navajo Nation. Using a system of barter, they traded the basic agricultural and ranching tools, along with cloth, canned goods and a few luxuries for wool, mohair, pinon nuts and, above all, the incredible one-of-a-kind art forms of Navajo rugs and silver and turquoise jewelry.
The Navajo Trading post was a mutually agreed upon Company Store with a virtually unending line of credit and a line of debt that probably would not be paid off during the lifetime of the Navajo "customer".
The trader served as ambassador or "Shogun" between the equally puzzling worlds of the Navajo and the Whiteman.
In addition to providing supplies, the trading post itself was a meeting place where gossip and hard information could be exchanged, as well as a job fair, a destination and a place of refuge where help could be obtained during a family emergency. Altogether, The Navajo Trading Post was perhaps the most exotic form of retail business in the US.
When the oldest operating Navajo Trading post, Hubbell Trading Post, came available for inclusion in the National Parks in 1965, Congress and the NPS jumped at the opportunity, To their credit, neither Congress nor the NPS wanted Hubbell Trading Post NHS to be a static museum with museum artifacts and tedious written explanations.
Instead they wanted something special. They wanted Hubbell Trading Post NHS to carry on as a living trading post. Not with a GS-5 NPS historical reenactor posing as a Navajo Trader, but rather with a real live veteran Navajo trader doing daily business with real Navajos from the local community. Park visitors were unlikely to want to buy a shovel or an axe, but they very much were interested in buying Navajo rugs and jewelry from a "real Indian Trading Post" The park cooperating association, The Western National Parks Association, handled Navajo rug, jewelry and book sales. The Hubbell Trading Post NHS would become the most profitable unit of the WNPA This would prove to be a problem.
A series of experienced and successful Navajo traders were hired, to the delight of both the Navajo community and the "Anglo" visitors. The last, before the "incident" was Billy Malone, married into a Navajo family and almost a Navajo himself. He hoped to be buried at Hubbell Trading Post.
Suddenly, Hubbell Trading Post was raided by NPS agents and the veteran trader, Billy Malone was accused of massive embezzlement and fraud and the mild mannered trader was referred to as "The Al Capone of the Navajo Reservation" by ambitious agents eager to make a case. Massive amounts of rugs, jewelry and other property were confiscated as "evidence". Malone claimed them to be the result of a lifetime of legitimate collecting on the reservation.
Agent Berkowitz soon found that Malone was telling the truth. Proving it would be the absorbing casework of the book.
Berkowitz painstakingly introduces us to each of the main topics or players: The Trading Post, The Trader, The NPS, The Cooperating Association, and the Raid and Investigation.
He methodically allocates a chapter for each player, mischievously titling the various chapters in both Navajo and English (Both Berkowitz and his fellow NPS spouse have spent considerable time among The People and have more than a passing knowledge of the Navajo culture.) Thus Berkowitz introduces the players and sets the stage for the conflict.
Chapter Three is the discussion of "The Agency". That is, the National Park Service. It is not the image presented by Ken Burns or other apologists and certainly is not a flattering one. The image drawn by Berkowitz is one of a rather secretive cult whose upper level members protect each other from investigation of wrong doing, "wire" jobs and promotions for favorites and restrict permanent hiring to those anointed by the Inner Circle. Berkowitz's perception of the agency, based on 30 some years of experience, was not enhanced by the knowledge that a significant number of his NPS colleagues, including at least one of his supervisors, were either caught or uncaught criminals. (Berkowitz rather delicately accuses them of being "ethically challenged" or having "elastic morals".)
Berkowitz's opinions were ruefully seconded by none other than the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, Earl Devaney who stated at a Congressional hearing:
"Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I have served in Federal government for a little over 32 years, I have never seen an organization more unwilling to accept constructive criticism or embrace new ideas than the National Park Service. Their culture is to fight fiercely to protect the status quo and reject any idea that is not their own. Their strategy to enforce the status quo is to take any new idea, such as law enforcement reform, and study it to death. Thus an IG recommendation or for that matter, Secretarial directive, falls victim to yet another Park Service work group charged by their National Leadership Council to defend the status quo from those of us who just do not understand the complexities of being a ranger."
Now whistleblowers are not universally beloved in the DOI and NPS. Indeed, the Mother Church of Whistleblowers, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) strongly advises against whistle blowing as being dangerous to your career, economic, and even personal safety. (PEER advises discreet, anonymous leaking of information to appropriate non-governmental entities, preferably PEER).
With that prudent advice in mind, Berkowitz retired from the NPS before submitting THE CASE OF THE INDIAN TRADER to a publisher. It should be noted that his publisher is not some vanity (or vengeance) self-publishing press for hire, but rather the highly respected University of New Mexico Press. With their reputation on line, I suspect that the editors checked over Berkowitz's assertions rather thoroughly.
Now was PEER being overly paranoid in suggesting that employees refrain from directly "blowing the whistle"; that there might be danger of retaliation? After all, each and every land management agency in the DOI is on record as stating that "any employee can and should report malfeasance with out fear of retaliation, intimidation, or retribution."
Oddly enough, while writing this book review, your kindly editor received e-mail from a former ranger of the C & O Canal. He had blown the whistle on park management in the notorious case of the billionaire Redskin football team owner who had cut down trees on a scenic easement to improve his view.
Suddenly, the long arm of coincidence was yanked out of its socket, when shortly after the whistle blowing, the NPS charged the ranger with theft of government property. The ranger was suddenly faced with ten years of learning a new career in license plate manufacturing at a state institution, if convicted.
Fortunately, the ranger was found not guilty. Unfortunately for the NPS, the ranger was not a "good sport" about the matter and has written a book about it. He asked me if I would like to do a book review of it as it will be coming out around Christmas?
Don't see why not, but I wonder how many of these book reviews I will do before the NPS tires of shooting itself in the foot and stops reloading.
READERS' COMMENTSYup, the end of the line; where readers get a chance to comment on past issues of THUNDERBEAR.
To assure reader privacy and to prevent possible retaliation, we have provided our correspondents with "handles", but they are actual, live people and your esteemed editor is not making any of this up:
Last issue's SAFETY MESSAGE on the history and efficacy of the Firing Squad as a safe and sane method of capital punishment brought several comments from readers.
You will recall that your editor was puzzled that the firing squad was the preferred method only in states dominated by the Mormon faith, and wondered why, speculating that it might be necessary to contact Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah for a definitive answer.
However, a reader, Ranger Nephi Smith, offers this thought
Thank you for the clarification, Nephi!
"Blood Atonement" makes perfect sense as it makes good use of the only apparent drawback to the firing squad; that is, that it is a bit messy. "When given lemons, make lemonade" we always say.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has long been cited as the "World's only known Mormon Democrat." Looks like he might have a competitor in Ranger Nephi Smith.
We also have a nice note from Ranger Jane Austen of the Intermountain Region:
Well, thank you, Ranger Jane!
The quote is from APPALACHIAN WILDERNESS: THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, a book that Abbey co-authored with Eliot Porter back in 1970. It was one of those big coffee table books that were popular back then. (I believe Porter did the photographs for Abbey's text.) It is out of print, but of course easily available through Amazon or ABE Books.
As noted in issue #282, Abbey's "Iconic and prophetic words" were written three decades before the Bush and Cheney disasters; not much has changed.
Abbey has another great quote in the same book. He graciously attributes it to the Mexican Revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata. "Like the sun and the air we breathe, the land belongs to all and to none." (One major national park attributed the quote to Abbey on an interpretive sign.)
Now then, Ranger Jane asked if we had considered Facebook for THUNDERBEAR.
Well, I don't know. Sounds like an interesting idea, maybe even a good one, but I'll have to talk it over with the Great Bear himself.
PJ Ryan can be reached at: