The NPS deserves a raise

How much are our national parks worth? Many would say they’re invaluable places at the core of conservation, preservation and recreation in America. Support for parks is broad (regardless of political affiliation, 95 percent of voters polled by the National Parks Conservation Association believe “protecting and supporting the National Parks” is an appropriate government role) but that doesn’t keep rangers on the job, does not adapt parks for climate change, does not begin to chip away at a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog. Heck, it doesn’t even keep the toilets flushing properly unless it’s backed by dollars.

In its latest ask, for Fiscal Year 2016–the year in which it celebrates its 100th birthday–the NPS has requested a 15 percent boost in funding. What for? “To repair an ageing infrastructure, respond to climate change, host school field trips, and provide rangers to greet nearly 300 million visitors with the highest standard of public service,” says NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. It also wants to attract new park visitors from underrepresented populations like young people and people of color; develop new parks; and support volunteer efforts.

If it sounds like a lot, the 15 percent bump really only restores the NPS budget to the level it was at several years ago, before Congress turned a blind eye to the needs of parks and the prerogative of the general public. The equation is simple: as the keeper of 405 national parks, 23 national scenic and national historic trails, and 60 wild and scenic rivers, the NPS needs to be fully funded in order to steward these collectively owned resources into a new century of greatness. Are we willing to gamble on the alternative?

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© Heather Hansen

Photo courtesy NPS/Michael Quinn.