Dumber than a box of rocks

January 17, 2008

Box of rocksIn an article about Tennessee’s so-far futile efforts to stop unregulated rock mining from stripping the Cumberland Trail bare:

“This is a lot more benign than logging is,” said Rick Hitchcock, a Tennessee attorney who represents Lahiere-Hill LLC, which owns the mineral rights in this area.

Mr. Hitchcock is right, if by benign he means trampling everything is sight, filling creeks with silt, promoting soil erosion, and threatening wildlife with dozers, earth excavators and dump trucks in order to remove rocks that have been there for millions of years.

Tip: Jeffrey Hunter

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You always hurt the one you love

January 11, 2008

face slapclimb_ca at GoBlog derides California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for proposing to close 48 state parks.

Probably because the roads aren’t big enough for his Hummer. But let me say this, the only thing more pathetic than Arnie is our state legislature. Bunch of amateurs. They couldn’t balance a budget if it was just two pennies and a dime.

This reminds me of somewhat similar stupidity that went on here in Tennessee a few years ago.

When then-governor Don Sundquist couldn’t push through an income tax to balance the budget, he desperately turned to other means in 2001 to salvage his quickly-declining reputation as a fiscal conservative. A key part of that strategy was to close 14 parks and cut the operating hours of the remaining parks.

A melee of lawsuits and petitions ensued, but Sundquist held firm and the parks remained closed through the end of his term.

Shortly after former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen took office in 2003 he ordered the parks reopened and the others put back to full operation.

The budget was immediately plunged to new depths of red ink, right? No, of course not.

In fact, Bredesen has managed to push balanced budgets through the legislature every year and the Rainy Day Fund has reached record levels.

Oh, and about the state parks: In September, Tennessee’s state parks were recognized as the best in the country.


Did somebody say there was a drought in the Southeast?

October 23, 2007

Caney Fork River

This ain’t no creek bed.

This is the Caney Fork River at Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness. As Wikipedia puts it:

The Caney Fork River is one of the major streams draining the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee and a major tributary of the Cumberland River system.

But on a recent backpacking trip we discovered there wasn’t a drop of water to be found.

Fortunately, the falls had a trickle of water. The source of this water is a cave. The water plunges more than 100 feet, then drops into another cave.

So how much water is normally in the river? Well, even in late summer there’s usually plenty of water. To give just an idea of that, the spot where I took this photo is a swimming hole, complete with rope swing.


Goodbye and don’t let the door hit you on the way out

May 25, 2007

‘Road to Nowhere’ won’t be finished

The National Park Service said today it doesn’t plan to build the so-called “Road to Nowhere” through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Defying logic, Tennessee style

April 5, 2007

Cumberland Trail at Frozen Head State ParkA judge 75 miles or so down the road from where I live did something I just can’t understand.

A Hamilton County chancellor on Wednesday ordered rock miners not to use mechanized or motorized machines to extract mountain stone from the Cumberland Trail State Park within 50 feet of the Cumberland Trail.

Want to rip out the rock with heavy machinery more than fifty feet away? No problem.

Want to rape the land right up to 25 feet from the trail? “Sure, go ahead,” the judge said. “Just do it by hand.”

Harvesters may not extract rock “by any means” within 25 feet of the nearest edge of the hiking trail, and they may not use any mechanized or motorized machinery to harvest rock between 25 and 50 feet from the nearest edge of the hiking trail.

That was big of him.

Now keep in mind, this is on state-owned land. But in a lot of cases, Tennessee bought land to preserve it but didn’t buy the mineral rights to it. A smart deal, hunh?

And thanks to Tennessee’s screwy mineral rights laws, it’s not clear if the rock miners can even remove the rock at all.

When it is completed, the Cumberland Trail will be one of the prime long distance hiking trails of the Southeast, stretching 300 miles from Chattanooga to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

That is, it will be if we don’t stop idiots from destroying it first.

I’ll let you decide who is the bigger idiot in this mess.


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.


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.