The Sticker on the Coffee Cup

Logic, U.S. government style.

Last week, I was in the North Cascades National Park. On a whim, I stopped by the Visitor Center at Newhalem. In addition to the usual interpretive displays, they have an excellent three-dimensional map of the area that identifies rivers and lakes and dams with lights; push a button and a red light appears on the map to show you where that thing is. They also had a ranger standing at a table with a bunch of reproduction animal skulls (wolverine, wolf, and bear) and corresponding paw castings and pelts. And a gift shop.

I went into the gift shop before leaving because … well, that’s what I do. I found some interesting kids’ stuff and picked out two gifts for my neighbor’s grandson, who has some learning disabilities. Then I saw a large coffee mug I liked — I like a big cup of coffee in the morning — and thought I’d buy it as a little gift for myself. But it had a paper sticker on it that had nothing to do with the mug. I reached for another, hoping to find one without a sticker and that’s when I realized that they all had stickers.

The sticker, which is shown below, says:

The North Cascades has an annual rainfall of over 200″ in some areas, which feeds the many cascading waterfalls of the region.

Sticker on Mug
This sticker was on every single coffee mug in the shop.

On a side note, I can definitely believe that rainfall figure because it rains every single time I go there. Although I like rain more than most people — probably because it rains so seldom where I live — I prefer getting rain at home instead of when I’m traveling. (Yeah, I know: whine, whine, whine.)

Of course, being the inquisitive person I am, I had to know why this sticker was on the mugs. So when I went to pay for my purchases, I asked the ranger at the check out counter.

He didn’t know. He said he’d never even noticed the stickers. He said he’d ask the guy who stocked the shop.

PFDs when flying across the Grand Canyon?

This brings to mind another side story that is related to this.

Years ago, the FAA changed its rules regarding personal flotation devices (PFDs or life jackets) on board flights conducted for tours. The new rule said that if any part of the flight crossed any body of water, a PDF was required for each passenger. This extended to Grand Canyon tours, which, of course, cross the Colorado River 5000 feet or more below the helicopter’s flight path. When I was a Grand Canyon tour pilot (which was before this rule came into play) the pilots often discussed that in the event of an engine failure, we should autorotate anywhere except to the water. The river was about 55°F, flowing at 10 mph or more, and full of rapids. When you’re doing an autorotation from 5000 feet, you have plenty of time to find and navigate to a more suitable landing zone; believe it or not, there are quite a few inside the canyon.

I spoke to the woman who created this rule — an aging FAA pencil pusher who had likely never flown across the Grand Canyon and reminded me of my sixth grade teacher, Miss Dumphy — and tried to tell her how silly (actually, idiotic, but I toned it down) her rule was. She didn’t care. Water was water; the way her rule was written, PFDs would be required when crossing a 3-foot-wide stream.

I didn’t have long to wait. That ranger walked by a moment later and the guy I’d asked called him over and asked him. He seemed almost embarrassed when he told me that they weren’t allowed to sell anything in the gift shop unless it provided some kind of interpretive or general information about the park.

Apparently, just having a logo on the mug wasn’t enough to satisfy some decision maker higher up on the food chain. The sticker was the solution.

I bought the mug as a practical memento of my visit to the park. I didn’t mind paying the price — which I honestly can’t remember — because I figured that it was another way to support the National Park Service. I didn’t need any additional information about the park to help me justify my purchase. And I definitely didn’t need a sticker that I had trouble scrubbing off once I got home.

But it makes me wonder … what other things are National Park Service employees being required to do to meet government guidelines established by someone in Washington who may have traveled to only a tiny fraction of the parks?

What do you think?