April 5, 2000

By Michael Johnsen

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a report Tuesday, April 4th revealing America's most famous protected sites face threats from overcrowding, development and pollution.

Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountain national parks were among those included on a list of the Top 10 Endangered U.S. Parks.

The group cited noise and air pollution from snowmobiles as major threats to Yellowstone. Currently, debates about the use of snowmobiles and motorized watercraft in national parks are playing out across the nation.

Also jeopardizing parks, such as Florida's Everglades are overcrowding, development, and industrial activity. One site, Arizona's Petrified Forest, made the list because of its loss of as much as 12 tons of fossilized wood per year to souvenir hunters. It is illegal to remove material from a national park.

Part of the problem the park's popularity: tourism. The growing winter tourism season brings 1,000 snowmobiles per day into Yellowstone, where park officials say air pollution levels are on par with those of major cities like Los Angeles or Denver. The National Park Service is considering a ban on snowmobile traffic, which is supported by many tourists who enjoy the park without the use of a snowmobile.

Also on the NPCA list is Alaska's Denali National Park, home to Mount McKinley, highest point in the United States. The group said planned road, resort, and snowmobile-related development will bring irrevocable change to pristine areas of the park.

Air pollution ruins the scenic views tourists have come to expect. This the the problem the nation's most-visited park faces.. The frequent fogs that give Great Smoky Mountains National Park its name have given way to air pollution from nearby power plants and heavy auto traffic, often spoiling the park's scenic vistas.

"The list is a metaphor for troubled national parks all across the nation," said NPCA President Thomas Kiernan. "Some of our national parks are becoming a national disgrace."

This is the second annual NPCA list of endangered parks. The group did not attempt to prioritize which of the top 10 they consider to be most endangered, according to NPCA spokesman Roger DiSilvestro.

The NPCA was founded in 1919 and today has more than 400,000 members.

The Top 10 Endangered Parks & Causes

* Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho): Air and noise pollution from snowmobiles.

* Denali National Park (Alaska): Proposed snowmobile access to wilderness areas, proposed road and resort building.

* Great Smoky Mountains National Park: (North Carolina, Tennessee): Visibility to pollution from vehicles and power plants.

* Joshua Tree National Park (California): Proposed landfill 1.5 miles from the border of this Mojave Desert park.

* Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee): Highway expansion through the site of a Civil War Battle.

* Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona): Loss of an estimated 12 tons of fossilized wood to souvenir hunters each year.

* Ozarks Scenic Riverways National Park (Missouri): Proposals for increased lead mining at sites near protected rivers.

* National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (Ohio): Lack of funding threatens deteriorating historic structures along slaves' 19th Century path to freedom. Everglades and

* Big Cypress National Park (Florida): Airport expansion, dramatic changes to water supply, and off-road vehicle use.