A Brief Note on the Future of America’s National Parks

NPS I am Not AshamedAt some point during the government shutdown earlier this month I wrote about the need to find a balance between preservation and access in preserving our national parks. I also shared an image that was being spread around the internet proclaiming that there was no need to feel ashamed about the National Park Service, even if some of our leaders in Congress feel like they’ve acted in a shameful manner. I was asked by several people on and offline whether or not they could purchase buttons, stickers, and/or t-shirts with the logo emblazoned on them. The answer to that question is yes: I was just contacted yesterday by a person who has undertaken the effort of putting the logo onto these items. Click here to purchase a range of items with the “I am not ashamed” logo on them if you are interested. All funds are going to the Association of National Park Rangers, so they’re going to a good and worthy source.

It is important that those of us who are advocates for National Parks don’t take our foot off the gas because the government shutdown is over. The National Parks experienced funding issues long before the shutdown. The Great Recession of 2008 and recent sequestration cuts have only exacerbated these funding issues, leading to employment shortages, maintenance issues that are long overdue for a fix, and a workforce unsure of where the next cut or shutdown will take place.

I’ve read Anne Whisnant’s article on the need for funding for the NPS several times now, and I think it’s an important read for outlining goals for the future. While I am not comfortable assessing blame on one individual or political party, the recent shutdown demonstrated to me that not everyone is a friend to the Park Service. In 1953, Bernard DeVoto called for the complete closing of the NPS because the service was so poorly funded as to be a national embarrassment. Continued complaints about the state of the Park Service eventually led to President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration undertaking a ten-year, $1 billion dollar effort to renovate the parks in time for the NPS’ 50th anniversary in 1966 (“Mission ’66”).

While Mission ’66 was largely successful, I wonder if a “Mission ’16” project would be successful. In an age of economic stagnation and government contraction, how will America care for its National Parks in the future?