The Intersection of National Parks, Nature, and Visitors
Dr. Tim Davis, a historian for the United States National Parks Service, visited The University of Maryland to share his knowledge on roads in national parks. He discussed how influential park roads have been to expanding public access and increasing public interest in national parks. Dr. Davis describes his experience of falling into his career as “serendipitous.” After he graduated from Harvard College, he traveled around with the West as a surveyor and photographer before going back to graduate school to pursue his passion for interpreting American landscapes.
Dr. Davis highlighted how motor roads transformed the national parks from the playground of the elite to places for middle class families to enjoy as well. Not only do the roads increase access into the national parks, but they are also used as a tool to highlight major land features. While the roads are specifically designed to be safe and increase access, they are also designed to give the passengers in the vehicles an intimate feeling with nature while in the comfort of their own vehicle and to highlight the natural scenery. The use of tunnels, bends in the roads, bridges, and openings between trees create focal points for passengers to observe and enjoy nature.
Edge effects, fragmentation of wildlife populations, disruption of natural habitat, and deaths to wildlife have been cited as devastating consequences of roads. However, with the help of responsible organizations and agencies, roads can have a minimal direct impact on a landscape if consciously built to have very little disruption to the ecosystem (Bissonette 2002). Dr. Davis stated that the National Park Service focuses on building roads which minimally impact terrain and allow for wide curves. This, as a consequence, reduces wildlife deaths by intentionally creating winding roads and forcing drivers to slow down. He also stated that native plants are often planted in the areas disturbed after the road building, reducing the chance for invasive species to grow. Overall, Dr. Davis’ seminar highlighted the importance of national park roads. They subtly carry visitors on a scenic route through the national parks and provide them with an intimate experience with while in the comfort of their own vehicles.
Bissonette, John. (2002). Scaling roads and wildlife: the Cinderella principle. Road Ecology Center. UC Davis: Road Ecology Center. Retrieved from: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6669x4gx.