National Park Concessionaires seek to Shake Things Up (with apologies to Taylor Swift)

I think there may have been a recent bout of collective insanity washing across the States. What else could explain Taylor Swift, Delaware North and Xanterra filing trademark for common terms?

Delaware North has operated the concessions in Yosemite for the last 20 years or so. They are seeking trademark protections for the iconic Ahwahnee lodge and Camp Curry Village.  When the concession goes out to bid, they want the next concessionaire to pay them handsomely for the names that predate their operation by decades. Perhaps Delaware North should pay any remaining descendants of the tribes who lived in the area for their use of the name for the past 20 years — it is derived from their name for the valley, “Owwoni” or “large mouth — after all.

Not to be outdone, Xanterra who operates El Tovar at the Grand Canyon is now in one the act too. They are seeking trademark protection for El Tovar, Bright Angel and Phantom Ranch. There claim is at least based upon their operating the lodges for most of the past century.  Presumably, their claims are being filed largely because today’s lawyers see gaps in contracts written decades ago.

And to top it off, Taylor Swift is seeking to trademark such common terms as “1989” and “I Am an American Citizen.”  Will I have to put a penny in a jar every time I tell someone, no despite my British accent, “I Am an American Citizen?”

While the Taylor Swift push is a side-show, the push by the concessionaires to claim these trademarks disturbs me.  They are being allowed to operate with public parks as they offer a valuable service to the visiting public. It would be a loss to the public if these storied names went away because of a legal spat designed to increase their chances of retaining a lucrative concession.  Rather than take a short-term view, driven by clever attorneys, why not take a long-term view more in-keeping with the park ethic. Even if they lose the concession for a period, they will be better off in the long-term if these names and brands are maintained and strengthened. To me it’s clear that  regardless of what the lawyers may say, these names belong to the public as much as the parks they are allowed to operate in do.

Time to move Parks Forward

After months of work, dozens of hearings, and reams of data crunched, the Parks Forward Commission released their final report on Friday.  The report makes six basic recommendations to move California State Parks beyond permanent crisis, to a brighter future.

  • Create a dedicated transformation team.
  • Open pathways to leadership.
  • Create a statewide nonprofit strategic partner with resources not currently available from existing park partners to undertake projects in coordination with the Department .
  • Prioritize necessary support to protect the system’s natural and cultural resources for future generations .
  • Expand park access for California’s underserved communities and urban populations and engage California’s younger generations .
  • Establish a stable funding structure for California parks that includes a robust revenue generation strategy and a dedicated, reliable source of public funding .

It’s not the first report to make many of these recommendations, but hopefully the last as the time has come to focus on implementation.

It was no accident that the Commission put the issue of opening up multiple pathways to leadership up front. To me it’s the central issue that State Parks is facing and without change in this area, the park system will continue to fall short.  Over the past 30 years, leadership in parks has narrowed and been focused on law enforcement and peace officer training. Don’t get me wrong, public safety in parks is critical. But securing and maintaining a peace officer certification is costly and takes hours each year. It also narrows the pool of people drawn to park leadership. Opening up leadership to those with backgrounds in natural resources, recreation and the like, will strengthen parks and be the key to unlocking the other changes.

Too often when I have camped at a State Park, the only time I see the Ranger is when they drive around in their police vehicle a the end of the day. I will know the Commission Report has been successful when the Ranger walks around and invites me to the campfire talk they’re giving later that evening.

Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks

Has spring arrived already?

It gets me every year. January is barely started and California is already flirting with Spring.

Last weekend, out in the redwoods in west Marin, the California Bay trees were blooming. When the weak sun filtered through the canopy and hit their branches, the diminutive cream colored flowers shone like little jewels. As the day wore on and the leaves heated up, that classic smell of the woods permeated the air — the peppery smell of this beautiful tree.

Have you seen the signs of Spring yet? Let me know!

One of the early signs of spring by the Bay.
One of the early signs of spring by the Bay.

Keystone XL as symbol of much that is wrong in the Country

Although its rarely been out of the news for the past few years, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is front-page news again today with the new Republican controlled Senate taking it up as its first order of business. For me, the pipeline has become a potent symbol of much that is wrong in the Country.

For the proponents it’s the solution to our economic woes and will single-handedly free us from the specter of “foreign oil.” Although last I checked Canada was not the 51st State, and many of the jobs would be temporary construction jobs. To the opponents it will be responsible for completing our slide into a warmer planet bathed in carbon dioxide.  They argue that stopping the pipeline will mean the oil stays in the ground. I am no expert on the economics of oil, but I think it is safe to assume the oil will get to market if the price is right, pipeline or no pipeline. As an aside, I am curious if the recent crash in oil price makes the project uneconomic.

And now the Senate is going to weigh in on a project that is both the subject of law suits and extensive review by the Administration. When the Republicans get a bill out of the Congress’s and to the Presidents desk, I hope he vetoes it to send a strong message.  Congress meanwhile needs to stop wasting everyone’s time and tackle the harder policy question of how American can lead the world in producing clean, plentiful and affordable energy that does not pollute the planet.  It’s a much harder ask but solving that will actually lead to sustained economic growth and a cleaner environment.  Of course,  while we make that transition it would be smart to keep our climate options open and leave the dirtiest forms of energy where they are — buried safe in the ground.

Three ways to beat the crowds at Muir Woods

One of the Bay Areas top visitor spots is Muir Woods. It was beautiful when I was there yesterday. I’ll never tire of the walk to Cathedral Grove along the banks of Redwood Creek. But it can get a little crowded. In fact this year, visitation is up 10 per cent  — or about 1 million people a year. I was surprised to learn that the days after Christmas can be as busy as any summer weekend!  Unfortunately the shuttle bus service is suspended due to the slide on Highway 1 and that the County is blocking parking along the county road. It had me thinking, if you want to visit the redwoods but want to avoid the Muir Woods crush, where should you go?

I have three suggestions for other spots to try.  They are all close by and have the added advantage of being kid friendly!

Live in the South Bay? Head down the coast and turn inland at Pescadero to find Butano Redwoods State Park. Much like Muir Woods, the highlight is a beautiful trail that follows Little Butano Creek with redwoods cloaking both sides.  Head up to the campground to see some of the largest trees in the park. And on your way out, stop at Bean Hollow State Beach and watch the breakers roll in.  It’s a grand day out!

Headed North across the Golden Gate Bridge? Instead of getting off at Muir Woods, head out on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it winds out to West Marin and stop at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. You could start our at the picnic area and admire the classic CCC hearths — you could even throw on a log and heat up your tea. Kids, young and old alike, will enjoy playing on the old stumps.  Then take a walk over the bridge to the Cross Marin Trail. It’s a great place to ride your bike, or just enjoy a walk along the creek.  Then hike up Wildcat Canyon to see some of the tallest trees in the Bay Area. If you’re feeling ambitious, follow the Pioneer trail up the the hill to an unusual grove at the top.

Want to stay in the East Bay?   It may lack the grandeur of the ancient forest, but my kids love to go to Roberts Regional Recreation Area.  It’s got a great playground and a beautiful redwood grove where they can play to their hearts content.  You can follow the short trail and see the site of the “landmark trees” — redwood beacons used by the early sailors on the bay.

Do you have other places to recommend? Let me know!

Places I love: Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Ferns grow where water flows.

In a remote part of northern California, a small creek flows to the Pacific Ocean in the heart of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. But this isn’t any creek. This is Home Creek and for its last mile of so it flows through Fern Canyon. I think it is one of the most beautiful spots on the coast.

I took the eight mile dirt road to Gold Bluffs beach earlier this week.  It was raining gently and I had the canyon to myself.  It may lack the grandeur of the better known canyons of the south west, but it more than makes up for this with a series of intimate views as you head upstream, repeatedly crossing the creek as you go.  The sheer walls of the canyon, draped with five-finger ferns, gently reflect and soften the sound of the creek. It’s just magical.

It’s a small flood!

I recently asked my oldest son what his favorite part of the Thanksgiving break was. Not the turkey, or pie, or playing in the park. It was playing in the rain during the, “small flood” that came along with the recent pineapple express storm.

There are a number of small creeks in the neighborhood that were flowing as high as I have seen them. Another few hours of rain and they would have burst their banks.  We didn’t just watch — we got out there and cleared some culverts of leaves and debris and then stood and watched as the huge puddles drained to the bay.  It was the perfect way to learn about how the things we do in our neighborhoods impact the health of the rivers and creeks and ultimately the bay.

It was great to see the new Rain Garden in the city of El Cerrito working to collect the water and give it time to infiltrate back into the ground.  With forecasts of more intense storms in our future, we’re going to need to build many more rain gardens to keep our neighborhoods safe from flood, to prevent pollution into the bay, and to give our kids new places to play — come rain or shine.

Gory science education remembered across the years

What do you remember about your early years at school? If you’re like me, chances are not too many of the specifics.  But I am pretty sure that my oldest son, now in the second grade, had one of those lessons last week. Why do I say that? Because I have a very similar memory from my time at school, as does my mother. More than 60 years separate these lessons, but they are essential the same.

And the lesson? Dissecting an eyeball and extracting the lens.

My mother worked on a sheep’s eye. I dissected a cow’s eye. And my son got to do the same with an anchovy.

It was amazing watching a class full of normally twitchy seven and eight year olds settle down and learn what makes a fish a fish.  The climax was removing the lens and feeling the tiny hard sphere that you could then take back to class. It made science-education real — if a little smelly!

The staff and many volunteers at the Shorebird Nature Center at the Berkeley Marina did a great job turning these students into scientists for the morning. I have a hunch that one of his early school memories will be of this day and that little anchovy.

Do you have a favorite lesson that has stuck with you through the years?

Dissecting an anchovy.
Dissecting an anchovy.

Remembering Martin Litton’s passionate and indomitable spirit

I was saddened to learn earlier today that Marin Litton, a passionate conservationist, passed away yesterday. I met Martin during my time at Save the Redwoods League. We connected on the redwoods (of course) and over his time in England during World War II fly gliders from airbases likely built by my grandfather.

I will never forget the first time we met.  It perfectly exemplifies his fierce independence and passion.  We were hosting a memorial tree planting for Martin’s former boss at Sunset Magazine, Ambassador Bill Lane. Given that many of the guests were getting on in years, we’d arranged for a bus to bring people up to the redwoods from the Bay Area.  The bus was running late. Very late. And Martin was the reason.

Martin stepped out of the bus with a bloodied and bruised face. In the early morning light, Martin had slipped in his driveway and landed heavily on his head. He’d laid there until his wife found him.  Undaunted they dusted hims off and he and his wife drove to meet the bus.  Our staff encouraged (implored!) him to go to the local hospital to be checked out.  But that would mean missing the event to honor his long-time fellow champion of the Sierra. Martin was getting on that bus if it was the last thing he was going to do.  Finally a compromise was reached and he agreed to visit the Garberville emergency room to be checked out when he arrived.  Anyone who has done that drive in a car knows its a long and slow drive. Imagine doing that with a bloodied, bruised head? I can’t!

It didn’t end there.  Between checking in to the hotel and getting Martin in the car to the hospital, his wife slipped. So we took them both to be checked out.  Fortunately both were fine, if bruised. Martin joined everyone the next day for breakfast, complete with a massive bandage and incipient black eye.   I can tell from reading his obituary, that this was the real Martin. He was an unstoppable force and the mountains and the forests of the West are better today for it.

Rest in Peace, Martin.

Bruised, but unstoppable, Martin Litton talks about his friend Bill Lane.
Bruised, but unstoppable, Martin Litton talks about his friend Bill Lane.

Remembering Harold

Harold Hoyle was my great uncle.  Born in the late 1800’s, he died near the Front on August 25, 2018 in the closing weeks of World War I. This past weekend, my mother along with other relatives, gathered in Earby, northern England to lay a poppy at the town’s war memorial. The oldest of the clan was my uncle Martin — Harold’s half brother. The youngest, my nephew Mylo.

My mother shared her memory of grandmother, Harold’s step-mother, telling the story stood of him leaving for the last time. She was stood on the very step he left from never to return.

Harold Hoyle was my fathers half brother and lived at Hodge Syke in Earby. He was an essential mill worker but was given the white feather one Friday evening by two mill girls so went to war. He was injured in France and came home to recuperate for 5 months and then went back. I remember Pauline Mary Hoyle (my grandmother and his step mother) telling me about the day he went back, standing in the doorway at Hodge Syke and telling her he would never come home again. She cried when she told me this and although not much more than 10 years old at the time (I’m 70 this year) I have never forgotten her look as she remembered the event.

The local paper, The Craven Herald, carried his death notice along with two moving poems on September 20th, 1918.

Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington's Regiment.
Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

Private Harold Holye, Earby

Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s, killed in action on August 25th, was 25 years of age and the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Albert J. Hoyle, Hodge Syke, Earby. He was wounded last October and returned to France after four months’ recuperation in England. Altogether he had been two years at the Front and was formerly an engine-tenter at Grove Shed, Earby.

HOYLE – In loving memory of our dear son, Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who was killed in action somewhere in France, August 25th, 1918.

Somewhere in France in a soldier’s grave,
Lies our dear son among the brave;
From earthly cares to heavenly rest,
Missed by those who loved him best.

–From Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters

Somewhere in France in a soldier’s grave,
Lies my dear sweet heart amongst the brave;
But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow
None but an aching heart can know,

–Ever remembered, Mollie

100 years after the end of the Great War, I find the story deeply moving. Harold was doing his part for the War effort on the home front, and yet something as flimsy as a white feather —  a potent symbol of cowardice — led to two years at the Front of the most brutal war and ultimately to his death in battle. Rest in Peace, Harold.

 Martin and MyloIMG_0317

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