Monday, August 8, 2016

Happy Centennial National Parks

The blog is written with Ron wearing his 8th Director of the National Park Service hat, and me wearing one as a member of the NPS Advisory Board, 1988-1990.

On August 16, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service. (NPS). "The Organic Act" states that the fundamental purpose of the NPS "is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Yellowstone was established by congress on March 1, 1872, as the first National Park, not only in the United States, but in the world.

The NPS encompasses more than 84 million acres and generates over 32 billion dollars annually.  Parks are an economic engine for states, cities and communities, but the NPS budget is quite small by comparison at around 3 billion annually for park operations.

They've been called "America's Best Idea."  They are America's treasures, both God given and man made.  They are loved, sometimes abused, at times overcrowded and some facilities are falling apart.

When Ron was appointed Director in 1972 by President Nixon, there were 30 national parks.  After a careful review, he concluded that we should take good care of what we already have, and perhaps add a "prairie park" to round out the system.  Not so fast, said just about every congressman or senator who didn't have a national park in their backyard.  Today there are 59 of those precious gems that the taxpayers must take care of.

The maintenance backlog is 12 million dollars, and keeps growing, and getting more serious.  Back in the early 70s the few rangers responsible for law enforcement we're lovingly referred to as "pine pigs.  We wore the T-shirts and thought the whole notion was kind of funny.  Today it is far from a joking matter.  It was on Ron's watch, that the first park ranger was killed in the line of duty.  The culprits were poachers.  Today, law enforcement in National Parks is a very serious concern.

Back then, park visitation was 211 million annually.  last year, 2015, there were 320 million visitors loving their parks.  But, in spite of the large numbers of visitors, the agency worries about staying relevant to younger generations.  They are working hard to reach a wider diversity of people that more fully reflects our entire nation, which has changed dramatically in recent years.  You may have read about the NPS call to "Pick your Park" and the free pass for every fourth grader to visit a park.  If Americans don't know what parks are all about, they might not choose to visit or support parks.

If you have visited a National Park this centennial summer, you have experienced huge crowds, waiting lines everywhere, and traffic jams.   Park employees are jammed too.  In Grand Canyon alone, they have used one mile of toilet paper every day for every single stall.  Yikes.  How wonderful that we love our parks and want to help be a part of the birthday celebration, but just think about what this is doing to the system.

Seems that everything old is new again, so we'll say it again.
*Let's stop acquiring new federal lands until we can adequately take care of and repair what we already have.
*States have good park systems, too.  Maybe it is time to send some entities back to their parent state for care and feeding.
*Maybe it is also time to sell some lesser quality land and use the funds where they will do the most good.
*And maybe it is time to consider more corporate or friends group participation to help with funding. We have seen first hand how vital these types of partnerships can be.
*And we know it is well past time to increase the federal budget so the NPS can do what needs to be done.

What better way to say Happy 100th Birthday to our National Parks than sprucing them up and making them look as beautiful as possible.  So, pause and think about our precious parks, or better yet stop and cherish one in person.  Take family and friends along with you if possible.  Make a memory of a very special time in a very special place.  Our memories of our family spending time in national parks are very special to to us.


Lynne said...

Great job Mom!!!

Lorna Collins - said...

They are a national treasure and certainly must be maintained! Good article!