Pago Pago, America's "Least Visited" National Park

— Chances are you've never heard of one of the most unusual and most fragile U.S. National Parks. And chances are you would have a hard time finding it.

There's an American hardware store nearby. And the American flag flies here but this national park is in American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific.

"We have neo tropical rain forests here found nowhere else in the United States, and indo pacific reefs," said park ranger Charles Cranfield. "These beautiful natural areas are at risk."

Park ranger Charles Cranfield, whose last assignment was in Nebraska, says much of the American Samoan rain forest has been destroyed by commerce and construction.

Several years ago, Congress decided that since this is, after all, part of America, it deserved to be protected just as much as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.

"The need for this, or any other park, is a need to protect the fabric of what America is about," explained fellow park ranger Charles Cranfield.

Today U.S. taxpayers spend $436,000 a year, leasing 15 percent of land from the Samoans. In return for that rent money, the locals who live in the park have agreed to leave it undisturbed.

They do not allow commercial fishing off-shore, polluting the coral reefs with industrial waste or more modern construction.

Warding Off Polution, Tourists

There are no tourist-type of facilities being built, no high-rise hotels, so it's unlikely to become another Hawaii, according to Cranfield. Only a few hundred outsiders visit the park each year and the locals seem happy.

"I believe that the national park will preserve the island and the people," said local American Samoan Tee Masaniai.

U.S. officials are also helping to keep a way of life — building traditional houses — helping Samoans to preserve their ancestral skills and customs. They're also helping preserve the wildlife, researching ways to save the fruit bat, or the flying fox, which generates new vegetation in the forest by spreading the seeds it eats.

Eventually, hiking trails will be installed here so visitors can get up those high hills.

Even so, the remoteness of American Samoa is likely to keep this U.S. national park one of the least visited. And for the sake of this environment, many here believe that may not be so bad.

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