Let’s stop Underfunding the National Parks

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“Our national parks and monuments support $13.3 billion of local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs. Yet our national parks suffer from a $580-million annual operating shortfall and a backlog of maintenance projects that exceeds $9 billion. — National Parks & Conservation Association (NPCA)

According to the NPCA, tourism in the National Parks was up 5% last year. This brought money into many local economies as visitors stopped at restaurants and service stations, bought souvenirs, stopped at grocery stores for picnic supplies, and stayed in hotels that are either locally owned or that employ many people from the region.

To my way of thinking, investing in the National Parks isn’t optional. At a time when more funds are needed, the President’s requested National Park Service budget for 2011 is $21.6 million less than the 2010 budget. Bluntly put, this is backwards thinking.

We’re looking at a sinking ship that keeps taking on more and more passengers.

In 2008, Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley, a former NPS chief historian, said that “the chronic under-funding of the National Park Service is not now and has not been for the past 50 years a matter of money – it is a matter of priorities!” That year, the $5 billion needed for the park service represented only 0.002 percent of the President’s proposed budget.

As I think of this, I’m reminded of many people I’ve known who purchase a new car every other year, go out to eat several times a week, hold a weekly barbecue and beer party in the back yard for their friends, and then complain that they can’t put a dime in a savings account, attend a concert or buy a novel. They love having skewed priorities and then complaining about how the results are not their fault.

The parks are the same way. When we overlook the the cost of handling the crowds, maintaining roads and trails, fighting fires and floods, and keeping the entire NPS infrastructure sound, we justify the unconscionably low NPS budget request by saying “why the hell do we need to spend all this money on a bunch of trees and lakes?”

We need to spend it because it’s where we live. It’s where our children will live. And it’s all connected to our spirituality and our culture and our air quality and our food supply and our water supply and our weather and to each of us–even if we never set foot on a trail or take a canoe ride down a river.

As the NPCA says, “Investing in the National Parks is investing in America.”

Malcolm

Purchases of my Glacier National Park adventure novel “The Sun Singer” and the e-book edition of my contemporary mythic saga “Garden of Heaven” benefit Glacier National Park through Vanilla Heart Publishing’s “Drop in the Bucket” Program.

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4 responses

  1. I would sure like to see support for the parks put ahead of many other kinds of spending, but they don’t give the politicians that publicity they think they can get other places.

    Traffic through Glacier is especially good this year though and that will help them there.

    • With visitor counts up, maybe some of those people will be more vocal when it comes to maintaining the park. I hope so. This might ramp up the publicity for readjusting budget priorities.

      Malcolm