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Our Shortchanged Parks

May 26, 2003

Every president since Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s has pledged to fix up the national parks. President Bush did so just two years ago. It's a popular political issue because people cherish the parks, monuments and historic sites administered by the National Park Service. But the promises have been lamentably empty, so much so that the parks suffer a $5-billion backlog in repair and rehabilitation. The service has a repair budget of barely $85 million for 388 park sites.

That makes it remarkably bad judgment for the Park Service to propose cutting its meager maintenance and repair budget in California and the West to help pay nearly $20 million for rangers to participate in anti-terrorist activities.

The $4.6 million targeted to be shaved off is 28% of the total regional budget for repair. Even worse -- insulting, in fact, to dedicated park employees -- is that about $1.6 million would go into a program to replace Park Service workers with private contractors. No money should be wasted on privatizing Park Service jobs.

Where are all those billions of dollars appropriated for homeland security? Surely $20 million of that money could be spared to pay for anti-terrorism in the parks and, we hope, the eradication of marijuana-growing and harvesting in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks.

Bush waxed eloquent two years ago during a visit to Sequoia. Donning a Park Service jacket, he declared, "Many parks have gone years without receiving the kind of care and upkeep the American people expect." Bush proposed a $4.9-billion five-year program to eliminate the maintenance backlog. This year's $85 million hardly measures up.

It's not entirely Bush's fault. Congress, whether under the control of Democrats or Republicans, has been negligent of the parks.

A century ago this month, President Theodore Roosevelt spent three days in the Yosemite wilderness with famed naturalist John Muir. Concluding the trip, he said: "There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias .... Our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred."

It's time to finally meet that challenge.

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