Tag Archives: National Parks

Red Oak Victory anchors Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park

Did you know there’s a National Park on the waterfront in Richmond, California?  This city, which makes the news for all the wrong reasons — think the Chevron Refinery catching on fire or gun violence in the iron triangle — is also home to Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front Historic Park (quite possibly the longest park name in the nation).

It’s fascinating park both for the story it tells, and also how it tells it. Unlike a classic national park where the Government owns the land and the buildings, this is an innovative partnership between the city, the park service and various non-profit partners. During World War II, Richmond was home to some of the largest ship yards in the world. It was also home to countless women — “Rosie’s” —  who picked up welding gloves and heavy equipment to build the machinery that liberated Europe and defeated Japan. It was also in these Kaiser shipyards that the concept of health coverage and insurance and workers was popularized.

At it’s height, these shipyards turned out three ships a day. And in one frenzy of activity, they assembled a liberty ship in five days. Most of these ships are now just a memory. The SS Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed in San Francisco was actually assembled in Maine. So this makes the Red Oak Victory all the more special. It’s one of the few remaining ships built in these ship-yards that remains afloat today.  It’s actually in the care of the Richmond Museum who have been working since 1998 to restore it and fire up the boilers. That’s time consuming and expensive work. But without it, the National Historic Park is just a collection of signs showing old photos of what was.

The Red Oak Victory is one of the few remaining ships built at the Richmond, CA shipyards during World War II.
The Red Oak Victory is one of the few remaining ships built at the Richmond, CA shipyards during World War II.

You may have seen the recent report that estimated our National Park System has a $11.5 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. That’s a big number. But it doesn’t include the money needed to restore other critical pieces of our national heritage — like the Red Oak Victory. That responsibility is falling to the volunteers and supporters of the Richmond Museum.

It’s time for the National Park Service to step up and help the volunteers of the Richmond Museum finish this effort. That would be a great way of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in the city of Richmond.  And with the boilers lit the historic park will finally come to life.  That’s a day I want to see.

Young mariners boarding the SS Red Oak Victory
Young mariners boarding the SS Red Oak Victory

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.

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What would Stephen Mather think about WiFi in National Parks?

The National Park Service is developing plans to bring WiFi and better cell-phone access to parks, including the iconic Yellowstone National Park. It’s triggering a heated debate, evidence by the recent article on Mashable that has been widely shared. Do elk and moose need access to the internet? Or more importantly, do the visitors who have come to be with nature also need to be connected to the internet so they can post a selfie instantaneously?

As we come up to the Centennial of the National Park Service it had me wondering what Stephen Mather, the first head of the National Park Service, would think of this debate. Of course, we’ll never know, but I have a hunch he’d have been an advocate.

Mather was a fascinating individual who had made his millions out of 20 Mule Team Borax. He understood the power of brand and the importance of getting people into the parks. He professionalized the park service, developed the iconic image of the Park Ranger (think of that hat), promoted Park Highways, and introduced concessions into Parks to provide for the needs of the visitors attracted to the parks he was building. He understood that parks needed protecting and the best way to protect them was to have passionate advocates who loved them.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’d understand the importance of introducing WiFi and internet access in a careful and limited manner to both encourage new visitors and provide new services to the visitor once they arrived. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we need access everywhere all the time, but I do believe parks need to keep pace with current trends to ensure they remain relevant to all visitors.

What do you think?

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