Then again, maybe not

March 26, 2007

cracked-nps.jpgWhen I commented recently about a stop Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar made at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on their listening tour, I took a tentatively positive view of the event.

But maybe — just maybe — if there are enough of these listening sessions, and if enough people participate to let their voices be heard, we can get park bureaucrats to re-align their goals with our need for wild and natural places that are protected for future generations.

Yet even with my disclaimer, my comments now seem almost exuberant when I look back on them just 10 days later.

That’s because I read this post by National Parks Traveler.


Hot deal on a cool product

March 25, 2007

Littlebug stoveSeveral months ago I wrote about a unique backpacking stove: The Littlebug. I thought it was neat then and I still do, though I have to admit I never bought one.

Today I received an email from its inventor, Kent Hering.

I ask for your help to spread this invitation within and beyond your circle of friends. In return, I offer a 25% discount to you and those you share this with, on all products purchased at The Littlbug Store. To receive this discount, enter Cutter when asked for your discount code. This offer ends July 31, 2007.

If you’re a reader of my blog I guess that makes you within or beyond my circle of friends, right? So I’m passing along this message to you.

I should note that Kent didn’t offer me special consideration for mentioning his offer and I wouldn’t accept it if he did. As I’ve written before, I don’t blog to get deals and freebies.

I’m just relaying the information because I think it’s a neat product and I like how they are made by people with disabilities and other employment barriers.

If you buy one let me know how you like it.

Gotta get me home by the morning light

March 20, 2007

Today a 12-year-old Boy Scout, Michael Auberry, was found safe and in good shape after spending four days lost in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

From initial reports, it sounds like he helped himself stay alive by practicing some of what he learned in Scouting. And it seems his dad understood that Scouting helped him.

“(Kent) Auberry, a Greensboro, North Carolina, attorney, said if he had it to do all over again, he would allow Michael to take part in the camping trip.

“‘I trusted the Boy Scouts to take him on this trip,” Auberry said. “When we find him, I will trust the same group to take him on a trip again.”‘

What’s more, it’s heartening to hear some people understand that being in the outdoors is full of risks, and you can’t protect yourself from all of them.

But after the elation of Michael’s safe return, we learned why he had wandered away from camp.

He said he got homesick because some of his closest friends had not gone on the camping trip, so he planned to walk to a highway and hitchhike to his home in Greensboro, North Carolina.

That brings new meaning to a phrase we often repeated when I was a Scout: A Boy Scout is never lost; just sometimes confused.

I smell a rat

March 16, 2007

Human Powered AdventureSocial networking and user-generated content are some of the hot buzzwords of the Internet these days. New sites pop up every day trying to duplicate the popularity of MySpace and Digg, the success stories of today’s Internet.

So it’s no wonder that consumer product companies want a piece of that action. The latest of these companies is Outdoor Research, which makes a variety of niche gear and apparel.

A couple months ago I wrote about OR’s Lab Rat program, an admirable Web effort to listen to customers. Too bad the same effort put in that site wasn’t put into the company’s new community Web site,

The intent of the new site is to let outdoor enthusiasts share in discussion forums, trip reports and gear reviews. But sadly, OR left out some key ingredients in a successful community-driven site, like allowing members to comment on posts and ways to express their identity.

In the publicity OR sent to Lab Rat members they said it is still in beta, so I guess I shouldn’t judge it too harshly. I’ve released sites in beta before and know that’s the time when you need to test them and collect feedback.

But phew, this one reeks.

The problem isn’t that it’s light on content, which it is, or that it has some navigation that doesn’t work right, which it does.

The site is dull and uninspiring. And that’s pretty much the opposite of what you want in a community site for outdoor enthusiasts. Dull and uninspiring tends to deflate the community and dampen the enthusiasm.

OR needs to set a trap for this rat and start over.

A rare view from the Smokies

March 15, 2007

View from Mt. CammererAn unusual occurrence happened in the Smokies Tuesday. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar came to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to listen and to hike.

During the day they hiked with some school children, and then that evening they held a session in Gatlinburg, Tenn., to hear suggestions and ideas on President Bush’s $3 billion National Park Centennial Initiative.

That’s unusual because it runs counter to the notion that Interior Department bureaucrats, mostly Bush-appointees, put politics before protection, ignore park problems, and are on a budget-slashing binge.

Jeffrey Hunter notes that the media advisory for this event was sent just the day before. Yet subsequent reports indicate the session was well attended and many people were given the opportunity to comment.

National Parks Traveler has the best coverage of the listening session I’ve read so far in a guest post by Owen Hoffman.

Hoffman says it was a good thing to see the administrators listening and responding to the public.

The overall atmosphere of this meeting was definitely upbeat and an improvement over what I witnessed over one year ago in Sevierville, Tennessee, when I attended an ill-fated and poorly organized NPS “listening session” that was intended to introduce the public to the details of the proposed draft re-write of the NPS Management Policy Guidelines.

But he saw signs of concern. Though little of it was mentioned during the session, the parks service is moving in a direction that places more emphasis on seeking and relying on philanthropic partnerships to carry out park goals.

This is a trend that needs to be watched. We should not have to resort to funding our parks like we fund sports arenas, with corporate naming rights and priorities that are out of step with the community’s interests.

But maybe — just maybe — if there are enough of these listening sessions, and if enough people participate to let their voices be heard, we can get park bureaucrats to re-align their goals with our need for wild and natural places that are protected for future generations.

That would be rare.

No wonder I don’t get much traffic

March 12, 2007

Blocked in China

I discovered my site is banned in China. That must be why I don’t get many visitors.

Well, that and the fact that I don’t blog much. And for that matter, when I do blog it doesn’t amount to much.

But I’m sure it’s mostly because 1,319,175,334 people can’t read it.

It’s getting lonely in Cades Cove

March 5, 2007

Cade’s Cove deer
Cades Cove, January 2006
It’s apparently getting lonely for the deer, anyway.

According to this article from a Florence, Ala. newspaper, the population of deer is dwindling in Cades Cove, a popular tourist destination in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Bob Miller, spokesman for the national park that straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border, said several factors have contributed to the number of deer in Cades Cove.

“As the number of black bear and coyotes in the park have increased, the white-tailed deer population has declined, he said.”

The only time I’ve been to Cades Cove when it wasn’t packed with tourists was early on a chilly, January Sunday morning. Usually they’re driving bumper-to-bumper while gawking at the wildlife from their cars.

I’ve sometimes joked that the deer are really just animatronic displays put there for the tourists. If the trend keeps up, maybe the park service will have to resort to that for real.

(link via National Parks Traveler)