National parks need greater investment

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill mandating that the National Parks Service “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." The federal government has been doing so for a little over 100 years now. However, recent events have proven that a mandate issued a century ago may not always be enough.

In the current economic, political and social climate, national parks often fall off the radar when the government has more important issues to tackle. When national parks are put on the backburner in this manner, they sink into disrepair.

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California is one example of a park that is close to falling into shambles. The government currently needs an estimated $60 million to handle a long backlog of repairs. However, the annual operating budget for national parks is only a little over $6 million.

Due to the severe lack of funding allocated to national parks, the most likely scenario is that the National Parks Service will never be able to provide necessary park maintenance. Officials will then be forced to pick and choose what places receive the most immediate attention.

The total estimated backlog of necessary maintenance for the 409 areas managed by the National Parks Service is $11.9 billion.  Yosemite National Park needs $500 million alone and the Grand Canyon needs $330 million for water damage repairs and system upgrades.

Many large parks have been logging record-breaking numbers of visitors, especially last year during the National Parks Centennial. However, these numbers are just not enough to keep the hundreds of miles of roads within the parks in good condition.

If Congress were to appropriate the millions of dollars needed for park repairs, it would be at the expense of money that could be allocated instead to a public program. Another option would be to privatize the parks. However, privatization is widely disputed, as people fear that private companies would turn the parks into money makers or tourist attractions.

Congress did regard privatization as a viable option and managed to entertain both sides of the debate. In Dec. 2016, Congress was able to secure more funding by passing the National Park Service Centennial Act, a bipartisan bill that permanently funds a public-private partnership called the Centennial Challenge Fund.

Through the passing of this bill, federal funding is being used to leverage money from non-governmental organizations to supplement the National Park Service budget. The funding for the Centennial Challenge comes from raising the cost of the lifetime senior pass, which is still only $10.

Government officials are hoping that this change will be enough to cover repairs, hire more rangers and attract volunteers, all while still keeping the government accountable. The government is taking responsibility for the maintenance of the National Parks but, realizing that it does not have sufficient resources, is also asking for help from U.S. citizens.

Working together to rise above individual limitations and achieve collective greatness is the definition of a U.S. citizen. Just a the founding fathers did not win the revolution by themselves, the federal government cannot solve every problem by itself either.

With a collective unity, national parks may now flourish once again. National parks are often referred to as “America’s best idea” because they remind citizens of how beautiful their country is and how much history is embedded in the land. That history demonstrates not only how diverse U.S. citizens are, but also how strong they are together.

It is true that some people have never visited national parks in their lifetime and may never do so. However, that does not mean that they do not admire the iconic scenery and the preservation of historic battlefields. It does not mean that they would not want their family to have the opportunity to visit.

Like Wilson said, preserving national parks is an investment for future generations. The federal government needs to hammer this home to the public and use it as a marketing campaign to get more visitors and donations.

It is important to preserve national parks not only because national parks help to balance out an ecosystem but also because they are a historic feature of this great nation. National parks are part of the great landscape of the United States and is referred to in conversation in literature. If U.S. citizens want the best for their kids, they need to start investing effort, money and time into the preservation of national parks.

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