Most people would probably agree that their national parks preserve what is finest about wild America and offer the best places to go for a pristine environment, with clean air and clear waters. They would be wrong, though, maintains Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. "Overcrowding, pollution, waste disposal, you name it--the parks have it. I think it would surprise a lot of Americans to learn that air quality in some national parks is worse than in most cities."
A look at just one such problem--air pollution--shows how very much our national parks are connected to the rest of the country by a bridge of dangerous toxic substances:
* At Big Bend National Park in Texas, views that should exceed 100 miles often are clouded over by haze, particularly during summertime. The National Park Service has measured visibility as low as nine miles, and the average summer visibility has declined from 85 to 43 miles.
* Half the streams in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia have suffered a reduction in their capacity to support native trout, with six percent incapable of hosting trout or other fish, because of air pollution. Air pollution has reduced the growth of the park's tulip poplar, green ash, sweet gum, black locust, eastern hemlock, pitch pine, and various plant species as well.
* At Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, air pollution has reduced mountain vistas from nearly 100 miles to about 20 miles in summer months, the peak time for pollution. …