I think most would agree that our National Parks are woefully under-funded. From the backlog of maintenance projects for trails, park facilities and historical structures, to declining resources for ranger and educational programs, scientific studies, and even the hiring of new park rangers, it’s obvious that there just isn’t enough money to go around.
Indeed, the National Parks Traveler recently reported that the National Park Service has a maintenance backlog in the neighborhood of $8 billion.
Moreover, according to National Parks Conservation Association President Tom Kiernan, out of a budget of approximately $2.3 billion, the Park Service has an annual operations shortfall of $600 million.
However, incongruously, every couple of weeks I come across a news report showing that the Federal Government has purchased a new tract of land to protect a viewshed along the Appalachian Trail or the Blue Ridge Parkway, or to protect headwaters on lands next to an existing National Park, or even to create an environmental buffer next to a park. I’m really only focused on what’s taking place in the Tennessee – North Carolina area, so I’m sure these federal land purchases are occurring with much more frequency when you consider the entire nation, especially in the western mountain states.
You might also note that the National Park Service recently added three new units to the system just in the last couple of months.
Now I’m learning that President Obama is considering using the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate 17 new National Monuments through a presidential proclamation. This would add more than 13 million acres to the management coffers of the National Park Service.
The recently published America's Great Outdoors Report also recommends that the administration "work with Congress to consider new congressional designations of or additions to wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national conservation system lands. Priority for federal support should be given to sites where strong local, regional and national support exists."
I have to ask - how can this be justified? How can the U.S. Government continue to purchase more land when they obviously can’t manage what they already own?
The Feds are effectively diverting funds from programs and park improvement projects in order to purchase more land. The end result is an even larger amount of total land mass that is under-funded and mismanaged. It all comes down to a question of quantity or quality. Do we want more and bigger parks, or is a better quality experience at existing parks more important?
Is anyone else alarmed by this?