Dear Friend of the National Parks,

Happy autumn! As we all know, fall is not just colorful leaves and pumpkins -- the new school year brings a new beginning. The nomination of Chuck Sams as Director of the National Park Service (NPS) -- the first Native American to lead the agency -- will also bring a welcome new beginning. I first met Mr. Sams and worked with him when we were both executive directors of land trusts, before I was with NPCA. His leadership skills, connections to local communities and commitment to protecting land and culture will make him not only a historic director, but a great one.

And some recent big news: On Friday, October 8, just ahead of Indigenous Peoples' Day, President Biden restored Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah to their original legal boundaries, again protecting millions of acres of public lands and linking a contiguous landscape that includes five national parks! NPCA congratulates the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and other Tribal allies who were tireless in the fight to restore the sacred ancestral landscape of Bears Ears, and we are here to support meaningful Tribal co-management to incorporate important traditional knowledge and wisdom.

Grand Canyon and Chaco Culture Parks in Congress 
Two park protection bills have been attached as amendments to important “must-pass” federal legislation. The Grand Canyon Protection Act, which permanently bans new uranium mining on a million acres of public lands adjacent to the park, passed the House of Representatives as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. A proposal to end oil and gas leasing on federal lands surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park has been attached to the House Reconciliation Appropriations bill (all Tribal lands are exempt out of respect for Tribal self-determination and economic development opportunities). We are working to ensure passage of both bills by the full Congress.

Air Tours in National Parks Under Review
Natural sounds and quiet of our wild places are an important part of the experience national parks protect for the public. New Air Tour Management plans could introduce or retain numerous commercial air tours at Arches, Canyonlands, and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Natural Bridges and Bandelier National Monuments, and 19 other national parks across the country. NPCA is advocating for the NPS and Federal Aviation Administration to conduct thorough analyses of the impacts these air tours have on wildlife, cultural sites and resources and natural soundscapes, and to consider eliminating air tours altogether. 

Unneeded Freeway Harmful to Saguaro Still Being Considered 
Many feared that the problematic western alignment of Interstate 11 in Pima County, with its multiple impacts to Saguaro National Park, would be the only alternative left after the first half of federal environmental compliance concluded this year. Fortunately, the cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative, one that co-locates the route along existing freeways, survived and both will move forward. NPCA and many others protested that the western Avra-Valley route should have been eliminated from further consideration. The second half of compliance, with more detailed studies, awaits future funding

Managing Crowds at Arches National Park 
After a long, crowded summer, Arches National Park has started a planning process to better manage visitor use and traffic congestion. For several years, the park simply closed gates when parking lots were full, turning visitors away for three to five hours at a time. The NPS will try a pilot timed-entry reservation system next spring. NPCA supports timed entry to balance public safety with resource protection and a positive visitor experience. Comments closed on Oct 5 for initial public input, but there will be several more opportunities to weigh in -- you can learn more in this story map.

Have an awesome autumn,




Ernie Atencio 
Regional Director, Southwest 

P.S. We are happy to announce the formation of the Sand Creek Creek Massacre Foundation, a nonprofit group to support the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in southeastern Colorado. The Foundation includes leadership from NPCA, NPS and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Photos, from top: Bears Ears National Monument © Jonathan Bailey; Chaco Culture National Historical Park © NPS; Helicopter over Bryce Canyon National Park © Lisa-Blue | iStockphoto; Saguaro in bloom © Frank Staub; Overcrowding at Arches National Park © Whit Richardson