Lesson 4.5: Social Studies Connection

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Parks in Peril

Snowmobiles, pollution, and development threaten our national playgrounds.

One day last winter, Ted Chlarson and more than 500 other snowmobile riders roared along the snowy trails of Yellowstone National Park. They motored past groups of bison, a bull elk sipping water from an icy river, and a bevy of nesting trumpeter swans.

Chlarson knows many people, including park rangers and environmentalists, don't like to see, hear, or smell snowmobiles on parkland. “They hate us,” he said.

Chlarson is right. Environmentalists say more than 70,000 snowmobiles pass through Yellowstone each year, pumping more than 3 million pounds of carbon monoxide, a deadly gas, into the air. In fact, when the snowmobiles line up at the entrances to the park, the fumes are so strong that some park rangers have to wear gas masks while working.

Because of the environmental damage caused by snowmobiles, the National Parks Conservation Association, the nation's leading park advocacy group, recently put Yellowstone on its annual list of America's most endangered national parks.

Nine other threatened national parks, memorials, and monuments are on that list.

The ten are threatened for various reasons. Officials said the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, is in danger because of air and water pollution caused by nearby coal-burning energy plants.

Other sites, including Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania, are threatened by the nearby construction of houses. Valley Forge is where George Washington's army spent the harsh winter of 1777–1778 during the American Revolution (1775–1783).

“Although our national parks are protected on paper, the dangers they face continue to multiply,” said the park association's president, Thomas Kiernan.

Federal Hall in Danger

Environmental factors aren't the only reasons why some national sites are endangered. The collapse of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11 damaged the Federal Hall National Memorial, which is four blocks from Ground Zero. The original building was destroyed in 1812 but rebuilt in 1842.

George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall. The original building was also the first U.S. Capitol. Officials say the collapse of the World Trade Center sent shock waves through Federal Hall, worsening a 70-year-old crack in the building's foundation.

Off the List

There's a chance that not all of the parks on the list will remain endangered for long.

The organization took the Biscayne National Park, in southern Florida, off the 2001 list after officials scrapped plans to turn a nearby Air Force base into a commercial airport. Environmentalists had feared that traffic congestion and low-flying planes would harm the park.

Officials removed the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, in Washington, D.C., after workers repaired the abolitionist's home.

“America has the ability to keep our nation's parks from serious danger,” Kiernan said. “But we…must have the will…to preserve these world-renowned national parks.”

Endangered Parks

The following are the six other parks, not mentioned in the story, that are on the National Parks Conservation Association's most endangered list.

  • Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
    The ancestral home of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes is under assault from an oil company that wants to explore for oil and build miles of new roads inside the park.
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
    Lack of operating money has resulted in crumbling roads and lodges in a portion of the park. The park's western edge is threatened by coal mines and timber-harvesting companies.
  • Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
    Boat traffic is polluting the park's water. One cruise ship struck and killed a pregnant humpback whale last year.
  • Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia
    The state wants to build a four-lane highway through the park.
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas
    Air pollution from power plants in Mexico and Texas is threatening Texas's first national park.
  • Mojave National Preserve, California
    Officials fear that development plans outside the park will drain water from the area. Wildlife is also threatened by illegal hunting. Meanwhile, off-road vehicles are damaging the habitat of many animals.

Word Wise

conservation:
The care, protection, or saving of something, such as the environment: There are many conservation groups that work to protect the land and animals.

advocacy:
The act of supporting a cause or a proposal: The tree advocacy group fought to protect the trees from the logging industry.

commercial:
Relating to a business or trade: Commercial businesses should work together with conservation groups to protect the land and save the animals.

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Activity

Make a word web. Choose one of the words above, and write that word in the center of a piece of paper. Write down all the words that you associate with the center word, and connect each one to the center word with a line. You may use a dictionary or thesaurus to help you. Be sure to include different forms of the word in your word web.

Data Hunt

National Park Attendance Quiz