NPCA Leads Discussion on Future of Parks

National Park and Conservation Association : NPCAI did go to the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) meeting last night at the REI in Seattle. It was really a great presentation. Credit goes to Sean Smith, the northwest regional director of the NPCA, for putting together an excellent panel and facilitating a good discussion about the current state of the parks and what the NPCA would like to see the Centennial Challenge accomplish for the National Park Service. Everyone was given a copy of the NPCA action plan called "5 Ways America Can Fix Our National Parks" [pdf]. I feel lucky that this presentation happened in my backyard, I wish for my readers across the country that similar meetings are held in your area. It was nice to be part of a live discussion involving other folks who care about these places.

The forum began with Washington State congressmen Norm Dicks and Brian Baird giving opening statements. These two have real political influence with the Park Service. When the House changed hands in November, Norm Dicks became the Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Committee. He's now the guy that gives the Parks their money. Dicks made it clear during his remarks that he was very concerned with the amount of NPS underfunding. He told the crowd, "we'll try and get this thing turned around." As you may now, the GAO has put the annual NPS budget shortfall at $100 million, core NPS services have suffered. Dicks told of a meeting he had with Secretary of Interior this week in which he told Kempthorne that he can't succeed as Secretary if he doesn't get the fixed cost issue solved. Dicks concluded his remarks to the audience by saying "we're ready to go, our delegation is very supportive of the parks." He received applause.

Next up was Representative Brian Baird. Baird leads the National Parks Caucus in the house, a caucus which didn't exist until he started it within the last 10 years (with Republican Rep. Souder). He explained that a caucus is a group that gives input on their issue to committees that exist outside of their jurisdiction (I was glad for the explanation). The NPS Caucus has been bi-partisan, equal parts Dem and Republican. So, for each Democrat that joins, they have had to add a Republican. Baird said the waiting list for Democrats wishing to join was a mile long. So, at the risk of breaking the group's bipartisanship, he said, his caucus will "rack up" in the next year. During the last year, he explained, it was the NPS caucus which helped fight the Hoffman Management Plan, stating that "they won't try that again with a Democratic congress". Baird also had some time to explain the legislation that he has proposed which will wipe out the maintenance backlog in the parks by the centennial in 2016. Part of that plan includes having a checkbox on your tax return which would give extra money to be specifically earmarked for the parks. He received applause.

The rest of the folks on the panel spoke next. Among the panelists, we heard from Olympic National Park Superintendent Laitner, who said that with increased funding they will focus their efforts within the park on core operations and services which have suffered in recent years. We also heard an abbreviated history of the NPS which focused on the meaning of conservation within the parks and how it has changed over the 90 year history, given by a professor of History at Central Washington University.

In the Q/A section of the forum, I did have an opportunity to ask a question of the panel. As an interpreter, I used to commonly speak in front of groups of 100 or more folks. But, having to ask a question of 30 year congressman in front of this crowd made my heart-rate rise with nervous anticipation. I'm sure the quivering tone in my voice made it sound as if I was prepared to cry at any second. Somehow though, I was able to get my question out before suffering from complete nervous breakdown, and I'm glad I did. I asked about park entrance fees and their impact on park visitation. The answer sparked an interesting discussion, the contents of which I'll share in a post later this week.
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Comments

Thank you for your participation in NPCA's event, and this excellent summary. Your attention to thr parks is inspiring so many others to care. Thank you.
Thanks Andrea. The park experience is something I'm passionate about, and I know a lot of others feel the same way. I appreciate the NPCA's effort to get a dialog going about issues that threaten the parks or our ability to enjoy these places.
Hey Jeremy:

Thanks for the glowing report on the roundtable. It was a huge success with a major portion of the credit going to NPCA's David Graves who organized and planned the event.

Also, your readers might enjoy seeing some images from the discussion. They can be found here: http://www.djbradleyphotogr...