October 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions Common Ground October 1998 Current Issue
October 1998
Common Ground

Meeting in America's national parks


Egypt has the pyramids, England has the crown jewels, but we have a national park system, a treasure to visit again and again, not just as tourists but as meeting attendees as well. Many of the parks have superb accommodations, and quite a few have meeting facilities too. Some notes of caution, however, are in order. All of the meeting facilities in the parks are run by private, for-profit concessionaires, while all of the parks are run by the National Park Service, a government agency that doesn't generally consider itself part of the hospitality industry. It already has a hard enough time balancing its pair of contradictory missions: to protect and preserve our parks and, at the same time, to make them as accessible as possible to the American public. Consequently, the park service can hardly be expected to work like a convention bureau. In some places, park service regulations even ban meeting groups during the summer high season. In others, access to meeting space is at the park service's discretion. In all cases, though, this is a great country. Why not take your group out to discover it?

Death Valley National Park
P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, Calif. 92328
(760) 786-2331
What's there: Home to the lowest point in the United States, this park is a prime place to experience the desert in all its glory. In summer, daytime temperatures ordinarily reach 120 degrees while the ground gets up to a flesh-shearing 200. This means the park is better when visited in the spring or fall, when the daytime temperatures rarely stray beyond the comfortable 60s. The reason to go to Death Valley is to experience the desert - its landscape of sand dunes, snow-capped mountains and, in spring, fields of wildflowers. The park's unpaved backcountry roads present a good opportunity to try out (or develop) four-wheel driving skills. Many of the same backcountry roads are available for mountain biking at a range of difficulties. Hiking possibilities also come in a variety of flavors, from a moonlit jaunt around 120-foot-tall sand dunes (easy) to a four-mile rocky scramble up to the 3,000-foot top of Corkscrew Peak (far from easy).
Meeting facilities: The 66-room Furnace Creek Inn (303-338-2640), a luxury property that dates back to 1927, has two meeting rooms, the largest of which accommodates 100 seated and 150 standing. Part of the same complex, the 224-room Furnace Creek Ranch has the lowest 18-hole golf course in the United States, recently redesigned and remodeled by Perry Dye.
Nearest major airport: Las Vegas, Nev., 170 miles

Everglades National Park
4000l State Road 9336
Homestead, Fla. 33034-6733
(305) 242-7700
What's there: South Florida's "River of Grass" offers visitors a chance to explore a lush and unique environment: a wide, shallow, slow-moving body of water whose shores are home to the reclusive Florida panther and whose waters are inhabited by the more sociable manatee as well as alligators, snakes and turtles. The Everglades also has a great variety of feathered inhabitants, including short-tailed hawks, white pelicans, roseate spoonbills and wood storks. While the park's several visitor centers have boardwalks that offer a glimpse of this ecosystem, those who really want to penetrate the wilderness should go by canoe.
Meeting facilities: The 103-room Flamingo Lodge (941-695-3101) has a function room that seats 50. Getting 50 guest rooms during the summer is difficult, although May through October is the rainy season; the drier winter is the easiest time to book space.
Nearest airports: Miami International Airport, 40 miles (to Homestead on the park's eastern boundary); Southwest Florida International in Fort Myers, 65 miles (to Everglades City on the northwestern edge of the park)

Glacier National Park
National Park Service
P.O. Box 128
West Glacier, Mont. 59936
(406) 888-7800
What's there: The park is dominated by the snow-capped Rockies and refreshed by pristine lakes, rivers and streams. Visitors are also likely to see bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk and deer. (Grizzly bears and wolves live here, too, but they pretty much keep to themselves.) The more than 700 miles of hiking trails range from level boardwalk strolls to climbs through some of the toughest tundra south of the Arctic Circle. Fishing is another relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors, but your chances of catching dinner are only so-so. Another way to experience the lakes of Glacier is aboard a boat, either regularly scheduled cruises complete with park ranger or private charter. The park's rivers offer a range of rafting opportunities, from gentle floats to white-water adventures.
Meeting facilities: Although Glacier National Park is open year-round, the park's seven lodges (managed by Glacier Park, Inc., 602-207-6000) are May through September affairs, with no space for meetings during the July-August high season. Two lodges have meeting space: The 163-room Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1913, has an enormous lobby, nine holes of golf and a banquet room that seats 150; the centerpiece of the rustic Lake McDonald Lodge complex is an 1895 hunting lodge, with an auditorium that seats 120 theater-style or 100 for banquets.
Nearest airports: Glacier Park International Airport, near Kalispell, Mont., 25 miles, served by Delta, Horizon and Northwest, with nonstop jet flights from Spokane, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City

Grand Canyon
National Park
P.O. Box 129
Grand Canyon, Ariz. 86023
(520) 638- 7888
What's there: The Colorado River, acting as nature's Michelangelo, spent millions of years carving this masterpiece, and the view from the rim is nothing short of breathtaking. Until you have seen it, it is simply impossible to imagine the overwhelming sight of a mile-deep ravine stretching nearly 300 miles. Exploring the canyon below the rim can be accomplished on foot by the hardy and forward-thinking (bring a gallon of water per person per day) as well as by the traditional mule or whitewater raft. Fishing for the plentiful and large rainbow trout that have been introduced into the Colorado is also an option if you arrange for your group to make camp on the canyon floor. Back up on the rim, there are a variety of bus tours that give visitors a range of vistas into the enormous chasm.
Meeting facilities: Amfac Parks & Resorts (303-297-2757) manages all eight hotels in the park, ranging from the elegant, year-round 78-room El Tovar on the canyon's South Rim to the 136-room Moqui Lodge, a self-described rustic motel near the park's entrance. Only two of these properties have meeting spaces: The 49-room Kachina Lodge, right next to El Tovar, and the nearby 55-room Thunderbird Lodge each have function rooms that seat 75 theater-style. Groups can't book space between Memorial and Labor days.
Nearest airports: Grand Canyon Airport, 2 miles, with limited service from Las Vegas; Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, 86 miles, with service by America West

Mammoth Cave
National Park
Mammoth Cave, Ky. 42259
(502) 758-2328
What's there: At 348 miles, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world. The park offers a variety of underground tours, from a one-hour, one-mile expedition designed for the mobility-impaired to a six-hour, five-mile crawl that is limited not just to adults but adults whose chest size is no more than 42 inches. Activities back on the surface include horseback riding; boating and canoeing on the usually placid - but occasionally flooded - Green and Nolin rivers; and fishing for black bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish in those rivers as well as in Sloans Crossing Pond and First Creek Lake.
Meeting facilities: The 42-room Mammoth Cave Hotel (502-758-2225) accommodates 150 for seated banquets, 350 for standing receptions and has a 225-seat auditorium. National Park Service regulations prohibit the hotel from booking groups between Memorial and Labor days.
Nearest airports: Louisville International Airport, 81 miles; Nashville International Airport, 103 miles

Yellowstone National Park
P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
(307) 344-7381
What's there: What isn't there? The first U.S. national park has the world's greatest concentration of thermal features, meaning geysers, like Old Faithful (which is not as faithful as it used to be), and hot springs. It has its own Grand Canyon, younger and smaller than the one in Arizona, but graced with 41 waterfalls, the highest with a drop of more than 300 feet. It has North America's largest mountain lake (offering what is generally considered the best trout fishing in the world). Yellowstone is also the place to go look at moose, elk, bison, bighorn sheep, deer and antelope. Plus, there's cross-country skiing in the winter.
Meeting facilities: The granddaddy of the national park system is not meeting group-friendly. While Amfac manages nine properties in the park, only two have meeting space. The map room at the 250-room Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins seats 175, can't be booked between Memorial and Labor days and is available only at the discretion of the National Park Service. The new 100-room Old Faithful Snow Lodge (which replaces an older snow lodge on the site) opened this past summer with meeting space for smaller groups of up to 50.
Nearest airports: West Yellowstone Airport, West Yellowstone, Mont., with service only during the summer, 30 miles; Jackson Hole Airport, Jackson, Wyo., 105 miles; Gallatin Field, Bozeman, Mont., 112 miles; Yellowstone Regional Airport, Cody, Wyo., 125 miles; Fanning Field, Idaho Falls, Idaho, 135 miles

Yosemite National Park
P.O. Box 577
Yosemite, Calif. 95389
(209) 372-0200
What's there: In a deep river canyon carved deeper by glaciers, Yosemite is best known for big rocks (mile-high Half Dome is the tallest) and high waterfalls, such as Yosemite Falls, down which water cascades 2,425 feet. The 800 miles of hiking trails lead visitors through a variety of terrains, including Yosemite Valley, home of both its namesake falls and Half Dome, and Tuolumne Meadows, whose 8,600 feet above sea level gives it year-round cool temperatures and September through June snowfalls, and the park's three groves of Giant Sequoias. The park also has two raftable rivers, the extremely challenging Tuolumne and the much calmer Merced River. During the winter, both cross-country and downhill skiing can be enjoyed in the park's higher elevations.
Meeting facilities: All lodging in the park is managed by the Yosemite Concession Services Corp. (209-372-1000). Three hotels have various spaces for small meetings and receptions: the 123-room Ahwahnee, a luxury property dating from 1927; the 306-room Yosemite Lodge; and the 104-room Wawona Hotel, with a nine-hole golf course. Plus, the Curry Village Pavilion holds up to 550 theater-style.
Nearest airports: Merced Air Terminal, Merced, Calif., with service by United Express, 76 miles; Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Fresno, Calif., 81 miles; San Francisco International Airport, 183 miles; San Jose International Airport, 181 miles n

Parks Online
For extensive details about all of America's national parks, go to ParkNet (www.nps.gov), a Web site run by the National Park Service.

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