National Parks Tabbed for Major Overhaul
Private donors are ready to hand over millions of dollars to spruce up some of the nation’s most cherished parks in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said Thursday, according to the Washington Post.
Congress has yet to approve the Bush administration’s plan to celebrate the park system’s centennial by leveraging taxpayers’ funds to attract philanthropists’ money for repairs and upgrades to the country’s wildlands
But corporations, nonprofits and visitors’ groups already have pledged more than $300 million to restore trails through Yosemite National Park’s wetland meadows and crocodile habitat in Florida’s Everglades, two proposals included on a select list of 201 priority anniversary projects unveiled Thursday.
“Working with the parks’ partners allows us to take a giant leap toward the parks of tomorrow,” Kempthorne said. “This is our opportunity as the current stewards to do our part.”
The national parks have long suffered from a budget shortfall, resulting in a long backlog of maintenance and preservation needs.
The Centennial Challenge project aims to fill in some of those gaps through a matching grants program projected to fetch $1 billion in private funds. That’s separate from the $1 billion in operational funding President Bush has proposed adding to the national parks’ budget over the next decade.
The special anniversary projects announced Thursday won’t become final unless Congress approves a spending plan for the parks. A spending bill is awaiting approval in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Separate from the challenge projects, Congress appears likely to approve a $200 million increase in the National Park Service’s operating budget after years of chronic underfunding, says Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, a watchdog group, according to USA Today.
“The system operates with more than an $800 million annual shortfall,” Kiernan says. “This is a good list of programs and projects. It demonstrates a strong commitment from the American public. But we need Congress and the White House to continue increasing the base operating budget.”
President Bush has proposed adding at least $100 million a year over the next decade to the park service’s annual budget, $2.3 billion proposed for fiscal 2008.
The Centennial Challenge seeks $12 million to create a “world class” New Orleans jazz museum, $20 million to restore 400 acres a year of Everglades wetlands and $26 million to replace Old Faithful’s visitor center.
Hiking and biking trails, nature centers, endangered species restoration, water-quality projects, junior ranger programs, youth conservation leadership training, invasive plant control and solar heating systems are among plans in 116 parks in 40 states and the District of Columbia.