The Resource for Everything Hiking Boots
Meet National Parks Traveler Kurt Repanshek
Kurt Repanshek is no dummy about the America’s National Park System (he did write the book on it, after all). He made the transition from reporter to freelancer, writing for various publications and authoring several books, including Hidden Utah and Hidden Salt Lake City. But his main claim to fame came after starting National Parks Traveler, a website devoted to providing in-depth news coverage, compelling articles and reader participation, all related to the country’s national parks.
We caught up with Kurt to get an insider’s perspective about all the National Parks have to offer.
Why did you start National Parks Traveler? What was the inspiration behind it?
I started the Traveler in August 2005 to broaden my platform as a writer who follows not only national park issues, but also issues revolving around public lands, wildlife and the environment. I’ve always loved the national parks and having written America’s National Parks for Dummies and National Parks With Kids, it just seemed natural.
You’ve been covering the outdoor industry for quite some time. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the past decade?
I’d say the biggest change is the relative decrease in federal funding for the land-management agencies. While the size of the National Park System continues to increase, today numbering almost 400 units, funding for the National Park Service has not kept pace. As a result, we’ve seen higher entrance fees to the parks, and fees either increasing or being charged for interpretive tours and programs.
Has the so-called green movement had any impact on people’s participation in national parks?
It’s hard to say how much of an impact the green movement has had on national park visitation. Overall, visitation has remained relatively flat since the 1980s. Whether that’s because folks have different interests or diversions or simply don’t think about the parks is hard to say. However, some units of the system — notably Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier — have seen record visitation in recent years. Some of that can be attributed to the attention surrounding Glacier’s centennial last year. Some is thought to be driven by the weak economy; folks are taking vacations closer to home.
What is your favorite national park and why?
I’ve long viewed Yellowstone as my favorite. It just offers so much, from incredible geothermal displays and great wildlife resources to fantastic backcountry areas for exploration. I’ve enjoyed the park winter, summer and fall, both on foot, on snowshoe and cross-country skis and in a canoe.
How can hiking enthusiasts become more involved in our national parks?
The National Park System is threaded through and through with hiking trails. There’s a trail for every ability and duration. I just returned from a nearly 50-mile, multi-day hike through Yellowstone’s backcountry. In comparison, back in August my wife and I hiked a mile-long nature trail at Glacier Bay National Park that took less than an hour. There are hikes that open windows to natural resources, and hikes in places such as Petersburg National Battlefield that provide valuable insights into the country’s history. Need a hike, short or long? Check into your nearest park’s visitor center for a list.
Kurt on the south rim of the Grand Canyon
We read recently that there might be funding cuts to national parks. Is this something that happens often? How can it be prevented?
In light of the country’s overall poor fiscal fitness, the national parks aren’t doing too poorly. However, the immediate years ahead aren’t looking too good. Until the Congress gets the federal budget in order, tough times likely will be the rule. However, some of those shortages can be offset through the work of friends groups such as the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Friends of Acadia, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, The Glacier Fund and the Yosemite Conservancy, which raise much-needed dollars to pay for programs in the parks, programs ranging from trail and campground maintenance to the purchase and installation of bear boxes to field programs and even wildlife research. And, of course, there’s the National Park Foundation, the congressionally charted organization whose mission is to raise charitable dollars for the parks. These groups work hard to leverage philanthropic giving from businesses, as well as from private individuals. Unfortunately, there are many, many more units of the National Park System that don’t have friends groups and which are hard-pressed to make ends meet.
How often do you get out there for a hike?
I get out almost every day with our dogs, two energy-rich springer spaniels, but those are generally hikes of short duration. But we try to get out at least twice a month for 5-8 mile hikes or, in winter, snowshoe jaunts.
Have any preferred gear/footwear?
Where I go and what I carry decides whether I wear light, middle- or heavy-weight boots. Most often, though, it’s a mid-weight, mesh-lined, waterproof boot. With hiking poles tossed in for those longer adventures!