The National Parks: America’s Best “Fixer Up” Idea

The National Parks: America’s Best “Fixer Up” Idea

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When I read the April TV schedule for one of my local PBS affiliate stations, I saw that Ken Burns’ six-part, twelve-hour documentary television series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, will air again this year in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.


Let’s assume that you’ve heeded my past advice and booked a stay in one of the popular U.S. National Parks in the Western U.S. for this summer far in advance.

You know you’ve got a bed in which to lay your head or a place to pitch your tent on arrival.

But what you don’t know is what shape that park will be in.

Here is California, funding for state parks has long been a hand-to-mouth situation. The state legislature has been reluctant to raise taxes to help pay for park operations, forcing at least part-time closure of some parks, and deferral of maintenance of facilities at many.

A grass-roots effort in 2010 to pass a ballot proposition that would have added $18 to California vehicle license fees in order to fund the state park system failed to pass, even though supporters tried to convince voters that state parks brought much need money from park visitors into local economies.

Federal parks face similar problems funding on-going maintenance. According to this report from NPR,

” the total backlog of needed maintenance at U.S. national parks is $11.9 billion. That backlog includes $500 million in needed repairs at Yosemite National Park, $100 million of which is considered critical. Grand Canyon National Park needs $330 million, due largely to outstanding wastewater and water system upgrades.”

If Congress won’t pony up the money needed for park maintenance, what’s the answer to keeping the parks ship-shape?

(Grand Canyon National Park Flickr Photo)

Should the federal government stop adding more lands to the national park system and devote its resources to fixing up what it already owns?

Or should it expand the size of existing parks, and establish new ones, to meet the seemingly endless uptick in national park visitation?

(Adam Matsumaoto Flickr Photo)

What about letting private companies handle all park management duties, not simply serve as concessionaires for operations such as in-park lodging?

(John Verive Flickr Photo)

Something to think about while toasting marshmallows over a campfire, or enjoying your favorite beverage in a national park lodge bar, this summer while enjoying a visit to a location of “America’s Best Idea.”

(Tales Told From The Road editor, Dick Jordan, has been visiting national parks in the Western U.S. for nearly fifty years.)

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