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National Perspective | PHILANTHROPY

Tapped-Out National Parks Turn to Corporations for Aid

May 14, 1996|D'JAMILA SALEM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — As Congress pulls the purse strings tighter, the National Park Service is turning to corporate America for funds to refurbish and maintain many of the nation's parks and memorials, including the Washington Monument.

Target Department stores recently announced a $1-million donation to help restore the 112-year-old monument and promised a nationwide campaign to raise the $4 million more needed before work on the exterior can begin. The cost of caring for parks and memorials is not covered in the park service budget, so the agency has been forced to rely heavily on the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit group that seeks donations.

The National Park Service has a 1996 budget of $1.32 billion, down $67 million from 1995. The maintenance backlog at the national parks is estimated to be $470 million, said Nina Jeager, director of foundation relations and communications.

Without corporate support, "you would see reduced visitor services--like shorter park hours and neglect of the trails--because the [congressional] appropriations are not adequate," Jeager added.

At the press conference announcing Target's donation, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt described partnerships with corporations as the way "to step forward in this era of limited resources."

Jeager said reliance on corporate donations is likely to increase because funds "are more likely to go down, given the current mood in Congress."

She added that soliciting funds from corporations is "part of a growing trend of increased private support for the parks. By the year 2000, we hope to be giving $20 million" to the parks. The foundation gave $2.6 million in 1995.

But don't expect to see any name changes at the parks or monuments. "Definitely not," Jeager said. "We don't want to do anything . . . that would compromise the integrity of the site. We clear everything with the Interior Department."

Last June, Canon U.S.A. Inc. donated more than $1 million to the park service to begin conservation efforts at 15 national parks--including the Grand Canyon, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the Santa Monica National Recreation Area, Joshua Tree National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. Jeager said that "all of these projects would not be possible without corporate funding."

And several corporations--Mobil Oil, Marriott International and Gannett Co.--have donated $1.2 million to help rebuild the historic C&O Canal that runs along the Potomac River from the Appalachian Mountains to Washington, D.C.

According to the park service, work on the Washington Monument should begin in early 1997--provided the funding goals are met--and be completed in two or three years. A Target spokeswoman said that Procter & Gamble, 3M and Neutrogena have agreed to donate funds, but no amounts have been specified. "Our first patriotic shrine will be surrounded by the tallest scaffolding ever constructed in this city," Babbitt said.

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The 555-foot marble obelisk, which was completed in 1884, needs extensive repair to the exterior shell, which has been damaged by weather. The interior and exterior joints need to be repointed, the interior walls need to be cleaned and stone cracks need to be repaired. The monument is expected to remain open during most of the repairs. Congress has appropriated funds to upgrade the elevator and air conditioning, both of which have failed in recent years, forcing temporary closures of the monument.

Times staff writer Stanley Meisler contributed to this story.

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