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E-M:/ Recommended: "National Parks fast falling into disrepair"

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org

anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org has recommended this article from 
The Christian Science Monitor's electronic edition.


This article from the Christian Science Monitor highlights a very serious problem facing Michigan's National Parks as well.  I was just fortunate enough to be on Isle Royale last week learning about the $26 million back log of repairs for the facilities of Michigan's only National Park. Even with some success getting special grants to cover some emergencies (like a gasoline carrying barge that was found to be on the verge of failure, so it had to be replaced 10 years early, with the new one to arrive this week, they hope) the Park is far behind in needed upkeep.  


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Headline:  National Parks fast falling into disrepair
Byline:  Brad Knickerbocker Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 05/25/2004

(ASHLAND, ORE.)Leaky lodge roofs. Potholed roads. Beaches closed for lack of a 
lifeguard. Not enough rangers in their Smokey Bear hats teaching kids 
about flora and fauna.

It's not a picture Americans want to imagine for their national parks - 
the "crown jewels" often likened to European cathedrals.

But as the nation approaches the year's first holiday weekend when 
families head for the mountains, seashore, and battlefield monuments, 
there's a groundswell of concern (bordering on revolt) among current 
and retired US Park Service employees over the condition of national 

Despite the efforts and rhetoric of Interior Secretary Gale Norton and 
Park Service Director Fran Miainella, the backlog of much-needed park 
maintenance continues to grow, these employees say.

Insiders have leaked a Park Service memo ordering park superintendents 
to refer to budget-driven program cuts as "service level adjustments." 
Such adjustments, the memo suggests, could include closing visitor 
centers on some holidays, cutting back on ranger talks and tours, 
eliminating lifeguard services at beaches, and closing parks two days a 
week. In a sideshow drama, the chief of the park police in Washington 
has been threatened with dismissal for speaking out about budget needs 
and staffing levels.

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental groups has just sued the 
Interior Department over its failure to minimize the air pollution 
impacts of nearby development on more than a dozen national parks and 
wilderness areas in the Rocky Mountain West. Interior is charged with 
failure to uphold the Clean Air Act around parks.

The National Park Service is a mammoth organization. With some 20,000 
professionals and 125,000 volunteers, it oversees 388 parks, monuments, 
battlefields, historic sites, lakeshores, recreation areas, scenic 
rivers and trails, and the White House. The number of park units has 
nearly doubled since 1970, and annual visits now total nearly 300 
million. All of this costs some $2.3 billion a year.

But critics say (and administration officials acknowledge) that's not 
enough to keep the resources in good shape while meeting the 
recreational and educational expectations of visitors. According to the 
General Accounting Office, the backlog of deferred maintenance at 
national parks has grown to something between $4 billion and $6.8 

Speaking at Everglades National Park the first summer of his 
presidency, President Bush pledged to "restore and renew America's 
national parks." Since then, however, the administration and Congress 
have budgeted $662 million in new funding for such improvements. That 
sounds like a lot, but spread over four budget cycles (2002-2005) it's 
inadequate to meet the need, say watchdog groups.

The private National Parks Conservation Association says $600 million 
in additional funds are needed every year to adequately chip away at 
the park maintenance backlog. Among the problems outlined in the 
association's recent report:

* Hikers cannot reach backcountry cabins at Mount Rainier National Park 
in Washington State because necessary bridges and trails need repair.

* Large sections of a historic lighthouse and Fort Jefferson at Dry 
Tortugas National Park in South Florida are unsafe.

* The visitor center at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii is sinking.

* Yosemite National Park needs more than $40 million for backlogged 
projects, including trail and campground maintenance, sewer system 
replacement, and electrical upgrades.

* Ancient stone structures are collapsing at Chaco Culture National 
Historical Park in New Mexico.

* At Yellowstone, 150 miles of roads have not been repaired in years, 
and many of the park's several hundred buildings are in poor condition.

"Claims that there are now more dollars than ever before, [are] simply 
not true at the park level," says Bill Wade, former superintendent of 
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and spokesman for the Coalition of 
National Park Service Retirees. "Parks across the system are having to 
significantly cut personnel - including maintenance, law enforcement, 
and interpretive staff as well as resource specialists - because the 
discretionary budget at the park level has diminished over the past 
several years."

The Park Service retirees group has been joined by active-duty insiders 
- the Association of National Park Rangers and Public Employees for 
Environmental Responsibility - in publicizing in-house memos sent to 
park officials.

"It is now time to ... determine what actually has to happen to stay 
within the funds you have been allocated," orders one such memo. 
"Please send us a bulleted list of 'service level adjustments' you plan 
to make." Among the suggested cuts: Closing visitor centers on federal 
holidays, eliminating guided ranger tours, and closing parks on Sundays 
and Mondays.

Part of the problem is, the park service has had other expensive 
obligations to meet: scheduled pay raises for federal employees, 
cleaning up after hurricanes and other natural disasters, and - since 
the terrorist attacks of 911 - providing extra security for places like 
the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument when the Department 
of Homeland Security declares a Code Orange alert.

While noting the size of the task, political appointees running the 
Interior Department and National Park Service tend to emphasize the 
positive. Park Service director Fran Mainella recently told lawmakers 
that the agency has "more funds per employee, per acre, and per visitor 
than at any time in its history." Since the Bush administration took 
over, she said, more than 1,300 repair and rehabilitation projects have 
been funded.

Meanwhile, the Park Service and the Travel Industry Association of 
America have launched a "See America's National Parks" program to 
encourage Americans to visit their national parks. But in the current 
budgetary climate, say some observers, that may be frustrating.

"You can't engage in large-scale efforts with the travel industry to 
ramp up visitors and then at the same time pressure superintendents to 
cut service," says Denny Huffman, former superintendent of Dinosaur 
National Monument in Colorado and Utah. "The only possible outcome ... 
is a reduced quality in the visitor's experience."

(c) Copyright 2004 The Christian Science Monitor.  All rights reserved. 

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