“The decision makers clearly don’t want those people in the park,” Love says, noting a nearly $50 expense (for the annual pass) isn’t feasible for many in the area. “And in the case of communities like Gary and Michigan City, it’s literally our government telling citizens they’re no longer welcome to recreate in something that is in their own neighborhoods.”
National parks for resource protection
As Indiana Dunes shows, national park status comes with its fair share of faults, particularly for local communities. But Kellett suggests reframing the national park-designation narrative. “It’s not national parks versus nirvana,” he says. “It’s national parks versus the other alternatives that exist.”
The U.S. has numerous public-land designations, but no label provides protection like “national park.” National forests allow logging, which Kellett says is particularly concerning in areas such as Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which holds over 40 percent of all carbon stored by national forests. “It’s the largest single [carbon] accumulation of any national forest—and they’re cutting the trees down,” he says, noting Tongass is on RESTORE’s internal list of at least 100 potential national parks.
Designated Wilderness Areas aren’t spared either, with mining allowed in “certain circumstances.” Just look at the sprawling Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, northern Minnesota’s 1 million acre outdoor-recreation gem, and the ever-present mining threats it faces.
These days, even national monuments, which are supposed to have the same protection as national parks, aren’t entirely safe from politics. Take former President Trump’s move to shrink Bears Ears National Monument, a sacred Indigenous region in Utah, by 85 percent. While this action is largely unprecedented—President Biden restored Bears Ears’ boundaries in 2021—it shows that even “protected” lands can be at risk.
But national park status adds another layer of protection, says Kellett, and it’s proven so time and again. “There was a mine proposed not too long ago just outside Yellowstone National Park,” he says. “That thing was killed even by Republicans in Wyoming. There was so much opposition because it was Yellowstone.” He says similar resource-protection wins occurred in Canyonlands and Arches national parks.
The reality of new designations
While a flurry of new national parks would protect natural resources, some argue it won’t solve another issue plaguing existing national parks: crowds. New parks don’t automatically break up existing crowds in other destinations.