Thursday, May 19, 2016

National Park System Expansion: Confronting A Second Century Challenge

The national park system centennial in 2016 presents an important opportunity to reflect on the system’s enormous growth and change since its inception. From a mere handful of national parks scattered across the West in 1916, the system now exceeds 410 units stretching across all 50 states and covering roughly 84 million acres. It contains national parks, monuments, preserves, recreation areas, seashores, battlefields, and heritage areas along with nearly a dozen other specific designations, all deemed nationally significant enough to merit a place in the system. In 2014, Congress commendably added another seven units to the system, and the President has since added several more national monuments. These actions confirm that this revered national treasure is not complete, and raising the prospect that the centennial itself might yet see more additions to the system. The spectacular growth in the national park system presents the question of how additions come about and what might be done to prompt further additions as we move into the system’s second century. Under existing law, Congress and the President are each empowered to add new units to the national park system; the Congress through its usual legislative process, and the President through the Antiquities Act, which gives him authority to proclaim new national monuments on public lands. A new park designation decision is thus inherently a political matter that is in the hands of our elected federal officials. It is not a prerogative of the National Park Service nor of state or local officials, though each can certainly promote new additions to the system as well as a vision for the future. More often than not, as Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan reminded us in their sweeping PBS documentary series, new national park designations have come about through aggressive citizen advocacy prompted by a few foresighted individuals committed to protecting these special places. One person who understood these political realities was Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service, whose tenure and insights set the tone for the agency over the ensuing years. As we ponder further expansion of the national park system during its second century, we can learn from Mather and his unabashed commitment to promoting the nascent system by supporting efforts to attract visitors to the parks. Occasionally criticized for his booster-like initiatives, Mather was intent on bringing Americans to these special places, convinced that once they had experienced a national park they would appreciate its value and support the new system. He understood that in the world of politics, public support was essential to ensure the system endured and prospered, whether the issue was budget appropriations for infrastructure, new national park designations, or the expansion of existing ones...more

"The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but the system faces a multibillion dollar maintenance backlog that officials say is no cause for rejoicing. The bill for deferred work is nearly $12 billion nationwide — a $440 million increase over last year."  AP 2/5/16

There should be no talk of expansion when they can't even manage what they have.

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