Passionate about the National Parks
June 24, 2014
"The mission is to create new advocates for the National Parks," Kurt Repanshek says of his website, National Parks Traveler.
The Traveler is an expansive online resource for visitors to the parks or for anyone interested in the issues affecting them. It has over 129,000 followers on Facebook and around 1.5 million readers per year, according to Repanshek, who has called the Park City area home for 20 years.
Repanshek grew up in New Jersey and got hooked at Acadia National Park in Maine.
"I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and we drove up from New Jersey and it’s just stuck with me ever since," Repanshek told The Park Record. "The seascape, the mountains, the trails — it was just a wonderful experience and it continues to be an incredible park that some people might overlook. But it’s truly, truly a fascinating place."
National Parks Traveler was launched in 2005, "primarily to broaden my platform as a freelance writer who covers issues such as national parks and public lands and wildlife issues," said Repanshek.
Soon, running the site became a full-time job.
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"Right off the bat there was a great interest in the parks and it just kind of started feeding on itself. I think that first week I had 400 readers and now that’s about a good hour’s worth of readers," he said.
The Traveler boasts nearly 7,000 photos from hundreds of contributors via its Flickr site and it posts articles and guides from a variety of volunteer contributors.
"Some are retired park rangers, some are retired college professors, some are other freelance writers who see merit in trying to grow the Traveler," said Repanshek.
"Obviously, generations come and go and you have to keep nurturing new stewards for the parks, so to speak, so we do that by offering a wide range of content," Repanshek said. "It’s kind of a cross between a daily newspaper and a magazine, in that we’ll have stories on a daily basis — it might be a search and rescue mission, it might be a congressional hearing into Parks Service budget or management issues — and we also do travelogue pieces, such as ‘How to Enjoy Yellowstone.’"
"The hope is that if somebody is surfing the net and they’re looking for something on Cape Cod or the Great Smoky Mountains, they’ll find the Traveler and they’ll find what they wanted to read, how to get the most out of their vacation in that specific park, but then they’ll stick around and start to educate themselves on the issues that the National Park System is confronted with," he said.
Inadequate funding is the biggest issue facing the National Parks, Repanshek said.
"The parks just don’t have the money to do the things they need to do. And you can see that in, basically a lack of full-time rangers out there. More and more reliance is being placed on volunteers in the parks. And that’s not to say that they’re not important, but to be able to have a full-time staff on the payroll, so to speak, year-round, dealing with the issues in the parks — whether that’s providing interpretation for the visitors or providing maintenance or preparing search and rescue — they struggle with that, just because they don’t have the financial wherewithal to address everything," he said.
"Part of the problem seems to be that members of Congress relish having a unit of the National Park system in their district or in their state, because it’s an economic draw and it’s something to take pride in," he continued. "And so while they’re quick to pass legislation to create new park units, they’re not always as quick to provide the funding."
Forced to pick only one favorite park, Repanshek said "I have to admit Yellowstone’s at the top of my list. There’s just so much diversity there between the wildlife, and the thermal features and the mountains and the lakes."
When exploring the outdoors locally, "the Uintas are probably my favorite place in the backyard to escape to," he said.
The San Rafael Swell is an area of Utah Repanshek would like to see incorporated into the National Park System, although he has some reservations.
"Since the 1930s they’ve been talking about creating a National Park around the San Rafael Swell, and that’s definitely a fantastic landscape there. It is BLM land, so it has a measure of protection to it," he said. "It comes down to what the state and what the local communities want in terms of economics. Because certainly, if you created a San Rafael National Park, it would bring in hordes of people and tourist dollars and that kind of thing. Economically, that might be good, but at the same time, it’s pretty cool to go down there now in its current form and explore without the crowds. Some of the wonders down there are truly fascinating."
"It’s funny, my one son asked me, ‘well how can you build a career out of this, don’t you run out of things to write about?’ And you never run out of things to write about with the parks."
National Parks Traveler is a free online resource for everything National Parks-related. Visit the website at http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com or follow it on Facebook.
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