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An Open Letter to the US Park Service

We just spent Labor Day weekend at Yosemite National Park. It was my first time ever spending any extended amount of time in the park system. One thing I found interesting was how at least half of the interactions we had the staffers actively suggested we call/write/tweet, etc. the Park Service letting them know what was working and what didn’t, what we loved and what we hated.  That being said, this is my response to those comments:

My first weekend ever spent in a National Park was eye opening. The Park System itself is an amazing gift that our forefathers left for us. My mother in-law’s family would frequently visit the parks. It was their annual vacation and they loved every minute of it. The accessibility (both in terms of location and expense) of the parks shaped not only her life but as she got married she made sure frequent trips to the National Parks were a key part of her new family’s time together.

A view of Yosemite Valley from the top of the Panorama Trail

A view of Yosemite Valley from the top of the Panorama Trail

The Parks are still an accessible national treasure. They are struggling under their success. Traffic was pretty intense two of the nights we stayed in the Park. There were too many cars, which dramatically impacted the beauty and the serenity. There is a shuttle bus service in and around the Park, but the buses run every 20-30 minutes. My gut is most people visiting the Park don’t take public transit regularly so for them it is just easier to drive everywhere in the Park. Why wait 20 minutes on each end of your journey? I believe limiting private vehicles and increasing public transport options would make the whole experience more enjoyable. No one wants to wait in traffic, wait to find parking or wait for a bus so tightening up the transit options will let people start enjoying their experiences quicker and more consistently.

The Grand Trees at Yosemite

The Grand Trees at Yosemite

Both my mother- and father in-law have commented on how awful the food is and has been at various Parks. We ate dinner each night in the more formal establishment at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The menu was relatively small (maybe 8-10 entrees), most of which sounded great. The food itself was pretty good. It definitely wasn’t restaurant quality which would survive outside the Park, especially at that price point. The other dining options, where you could grab a sandwich or a snack looked awful. We didn’t get anything from these shops because the lines were so outrageously long and slow moving. Upping the food game would add such value to the Parks. Even just upping the grab and go options would do wonders for the park. I’m thinking of the great lunch places in Chicago that could thrive in the Park. Think Pret a Manger with pre-made sandwiches, sides and snacks. Decent quality  and a reasonable price. I am sure there are hundreds of other options that would work too.

It was quite a hike to Cathedral Lakes, but the views were amazing.

It was quite a hike to Cathedral Lakes, but the views were amazing.

In addition to the amazing beauty of the Park another great asset is the people who work at the Park. They are some of the most energetic and passionate people I’ve come across. They all seem to truly love what they are doing, where they are doing it and who they get to interact with.  They would tell you about the Park, the hikes, the history, the menu and the love and excitement in the voice was clear.  These people provide the backbone to the whole organization.  The employees at the park do need just a bit of coaching when it comes to service, for example: 1) The bussers should ask if you are done with your meal or drink before they remove it from the table 2) The backup concierge employees should know the basics of the park – like where shuttles pick up 3) Don’t complain about your boss over the loud speaker of the bus you are driving.  Again, everyone we dealt with were providing good service but it would take just a little work to go from good to great. The opportunity is there. They have an amazing foundation of current employees who truly love what they do.

I’ve always said there are three levels of service. These levels are exemplified by how they respond to a guest saying “Thank You.” They can say “Yup,” “You’re Welcome” or “My Pleasure.”  The Yosemite team was about 50% “You’re Welcome” 49.99% “Yup” and a single solitary person who said “My Pleasure.” When she said “My Pleasure,” she said it from the bottom of her heart, you could see it in her eyes too. She wasn’t just going through the motions. She is a gem and a keeper.

Another from our Cathedral Lakes Destination

Another from our Cathedral Lakes Destination

There is so much right with the National Park System and the Parks individually.  It is our duty, not only as Americans, but as human beings, to protect these spaces and the creatures who live in them. True conservatism is protecting these spaces for our future use and enjoyment.


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