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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

National Park Service's 100th birthday should be the time to reflect on and appreciate our national parks and to properly invest in them

National Park Service’s 100th birthday should be the time to reflect on and appreciate our national parks and to properly invest in them
By:  Michael Lander

This is a view of the White Mountains from the Kancamagus
Highway in New Hampshire.  Even though parts of the White
Mountains are in a national forest, and are not a national
park, this view is similar to what you will see in parks
along the same mountain chain further to the south in
the Appalachians and in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

national parks attract millions of Americans each year from all walks of life and people from all around the world.

With their magnificent natural beauty, their breathtaking scenic vistas, and all of the wildlife that reside within them, they truly are national treasures for all of us to love, appreciate, to be proud of, and to enjoy.

Given what they mean to all of us and to all of the visitors from around the world, why would we not want to adequately invest in them and in their future?

That is a question that we should all be asking ourselves, especially as the
National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday on August 25th.

This is a view of the Atlantic coastline within Acadia
National Park in Maine.  The views are similar to the
national parks on the west coast.  This park is the
most northern national park in the continental U.S.

Today, on the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary, our national parks are in desperate need of funding that we cannot afford to put off or to ignore any longer.

Because of unreliable and inadequate annual congressional funding, there is a serious maintenance backlog for the National Park System that has reached a desperately critical situation. 

From roads and bridges to visitor centers and trails, the backlog totals nearly $12 billion.  Just the national parks in Tennessee, alone, need almost $294.5 million in maintenance.  At Shiloh National Military Park, for instance, that figure is nearly $7.5 million.

The Arch Rock at Mackinac National Park is just one of the
many natural formations that visitors can see in other parks
across the U.S.  The Mackinac National Park was
established in 1875 and it was the second national park
in the U.S.

With the situation being what it is, today, we must call on our lawmakers to do better than this.  We, and our parks, deserve better from them.  Please join me in urging our elected officials in Washington, D.C., (in
Congress and in the Senate), to establish reliable annual funding and set policies that provide long-term stability for our parks.  

In doing this, let us also remind them about the potential of private-sector support and ask them to consider that option, if they cannot afford to provide adequate funding to our parks, themselves.

Whatever we do, we must do something.  Our national parks are priceless treasures that are worth whatever amount that we can invest in them because they are invaluable, not only for those of us living today, but for those generations to come.

This is a view of an area near the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh
National Military Battlefield Park.  There are dozens of
these battlefield parks for both the Revolutionary and
the U.S. Civil War throughout the U.S.

Even though Congress did increase funding from $2.3 billion in 2007 to $2.8 billion in 2016, this has not been enough to keep up with the backlog of routine maintenance and a crumbling infrastructure in some of our parks.

To remedy this, a bill has been proposed that would pay $12 billion to address the deferred maintenance that is needed for our national parks.  But, some in Congress are reluctant to provide this funding, suggesting instead, that the federal government, (which owns one third of all land in the U.S.), and the National Park Service should sell some of their land.

Is this really what we are going to resort to every time that we face budgetary constraints or shortfalls?

Many of the national parks and the national military battlefield
parks are ideal places not only to drive through, but to walk,
run, and ride a bike, too.

Should this ever happen, the decision of which lands and which parks and how much of it will be put on the auction block should be a major concern to each and every one of us.

For 100 years, generations of visitors have been enjoying our country’s national parks.  They continue to provid
e us with beautiful places to look at where we can experience nature, whether we camp in them or drive, walk, run, hike, or ride our bikes through them.

Most of our parks encourage cyclists to come for a visit with many providing amenities to place your bike and with slower moving vehicular traffic, they can be a safer and more scenic alternative than what you might otherwise find in busy and congested city traffic.

Many of the places that shaped our nation are important in our
history like Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston,
S.C., which are preserved within our national park system.

Throughout our own great State of Tennessee, we have 12 national parks where visitors and cyclists can take advantage of recreational opportunities at special places like Cades Cove and scenic views of Natchez Trace Scenic Trail, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Appalachian Trail.

Visitors can also walk on hallowed ground that bore witness to events that forever shaped our nation’s history and that honor those who died at the military battlefields at
Stone’s River, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and Shiloh National Military Park, which is an easy day trip from Memphis.

National parks, like Acadia National Park in Maine, provide
an experience that Americans may not otherwise be able to
get.  It is because of this that every effort should be made to
preserve and protect them for us and the generations to

In all of these places, and throughout all of the national parks across the U.S., we have a vested interest in preserving them.  Each of them provide economic activity that brings in revenues to the nearby local communities and to each of the states where the parks are located. 

In 2014 almost 8.5 million people ventured into national parks in Tennessee alone, spending more than $570 million when they visited.  They patronize local retailers, restaurants, hotels, campgrounds and more, all of which employ local area residents. And, our visitors contribute to local tax bases as well.

This is a view of Diana's Baths in the White Mountains
National Forest.  Many similar views, like this, can be
found throughout our national parks in the U.S.

We all understand that the value of our national parks is more than just economic, however.  What makes them priceless is what they mean to us as a people, the heritage that they represent for us, and how they are something that we can all share and enjoy together, regardless of who we are or where we come from.  This makes them something that is distinctively and uniquely American.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "There is nothing so American as our national parks.... The fundamental idea behind the that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us."

Stones River National Battlefield Park is one of three Civil
War battlefield parks in the State of Tennessee.  Each of
these provide a tangible reminder of our nation's history
and battles that helped to shape and define who we are

If you really want to know all about America and get an idea of one of the things that makes our country great, you can look at who we are as a people and the land that we set aside for each and every one of us to enjoy.  

As the National Park Service marks its 100th birthday on August 25, we celebrate our own story and that of a nation committed to saving places that are precious to all of us.

It might be easy for us to take our national parks for granted, but we shouldn’t. 

So, what are our national parks worth to you?  Is there a price tag that you could put on it?  The answers to these questions should be simple and unequivocal – They are absolutely priceless!

This is a view from atop Little Round Top at Gettysburg National
Military Park in Pennsylvania.  A statue of Union Brigadier
General Gouverneur Kemble Warren has been erected
where he is said to have stood at one point during the
battle, which he did not survive.

National parks are an integral part our country, our history, and they represent who we are as a people.  I would think that they are certainly worth the investment that is needed to preserve them for those of us living today and for the generations of those coming after us. 

Let us do what we can to ensure that we commit whatever money and resources that we can for our national parks now and for the future.

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