Hotels in the National Parks – a sternly worded memo
When many of today’s historic hotels in the National Parks first opened, America was a different kind of place, so people appreciated “rustic” and didn’t expect to have all the comforts of the city out in the woods because, well, if they preferred the comforts of the city they would stay in the city.
From time to time, I complain about the inconsiderate people who ruin camping experiences for everyone else by “serenading” the woods with loud music, loud TV sets, video game racket, and various other hobbies that have no place in a wilderness setting. Frankly, I’m there to get away from all that. Those who are addicted to racket can (a) wear earphones or (b) go away.
The same Internet that makes it possible for me to say a few kind words about old hotels gives others an opportunity to say nasty things about those hotels even though old buildings in a restricted environment can’t (and shouldn’t) compete with one’s favorite, modern resort. But, I can’t help but wonder why people complain about the very things they should have expected to find.
People, The Hotels are Really Old
I wonder why we can’t tolerate “rustic” these days as good sports rather than griping on line about things that are, quite frankly, to be expected in a hotel built 100 years ago in an environment that isn’t kind to structures and in a place that cannot be disturbed by the kinds of “improvements” we take for granted in big city hotels that operate year-around with full access to the best transportation, water, power, DSL and everything else anyone could possibly ask for in a hotel.
Old hotels are likely to have smaller rooms, older-style bathrooms, thinner walls, floors/ceilings that creak and groan, balcony doors and windows that might rattle in the wind, no television or hotel-wide WiFi or DSL. We used to call this kind of thing charming because going to a National Park was traditionally considered “roughing it” even if you didn’t sleep in a tent. Light sleepers can take white noise machines. WiFi addicts can: (a) find the designated WiFI areas (if any), (b) consider entering a 12-step program before staying in a historic hotel so that the lack of instant access to the world outside the park won’t be more important than enjoying what is there, (c) Go away.
When staying in a National Register listed hotel, it’s good to remember that preservation of historic structures always trumps restoration, much less renovation. Buildings are updated to comply with codes. But updating them because people want modern bathrooms, TV sets in rooms with less insulation between rooms, and a five-star, New York City experience in a wilderness setting is not only destructive to the historic building, but down right lousy management. In the preservation business, we often talk about Paul Bunyan’s axe. If you keep using it, you have to tolerate its fragility and construction and chop accordingly; otherwise, when you replace the handle one year and replace the axe head another year, it might look like Paul Bunyan’s axe. But it isn’t. It’s now a replica and no longer a historical treasure.
You Don’t Expect Granny to Dance Like a Teenager
I don’t know, maybe fewer people are tolerating granny these days because she’s old and acts her age and cannot do this or that with the same efficiency and style as a much younger person. Yes, I know, science will probably figure out how to keep replacing granny’s parts so that one day granny will be a teenager again. Of course, she won’t be granny any more either.
Old buildings also act their age, especially when their age=history. We cannot have it both ways. If we want to stay in a historic hotel, then we need to love it for what it is rather than taking away all of its history by modernizing the original building away over time with “improvements.”
In many ways, the National Park Service is the ultimate steward of these properties, because NPS controls what can be changed and what cannot, how the hotel must function within a pristine environment, and even how much you pay for a room. Suffice it to say, the hotels are old, expensive to maintain and difficult to operate.
We’re there for nature, not pampering; so it would be nice, I think, for some constructive reviews on sites like TripAdvisor rather than listing “faults” that really are the realities of rustic accommodations in century-old hotels.
For More Information
- Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Historic Preservation
- National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service