Park Maintenance Backlog Most Visible, But Not Only, Problem
During U.S. Rep. Mark Souder's nationwide roadshow to illuminate the funding plight that the National Park Service faces, much of the attention has been on the $4.5 billion to $9 billion backlog in park maintenance.
But what's equally shocking, and shouldn't be tolerated, is the paring back of Park Service personnel that has occurred under the Bush administration.
For several hours yesterday Souder held a hearing in the Seattle area to gather information on how woefully funded the park system is. One of the glaring statistics that came out was that Olympic National Park has had to cut its seasonal ranger force from 130 in 2001 to just 25 in 2004. These are the rangers who in the past have been available to answer visitors' questions, to provide campfire talks, and to offer interpretation. 135 to 25. That's outrageous.
Among those who testified was Sally Jewell of the National Parks Conservation Association. She told Souder that as federal funding of the parks wanes, there's a danger that private funding will falter, too.
"The private sector and philanthropy expects to see a return on its investment," she said. "When the private sector sees itself supplanting, rather than supplementing funding for our parks, they will retreat."
And if they retreat, our park system will wither even faster than it is.