Written by Barb Pahl
Last week, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released their report on The State of America’s National Parks, calling for major improvements in the management of natural, historic and cultural resources in advance of the 2016 centennial of the Park Service.
NPCA’s report, based on 10 years of research on 80 park units, finds that the Park Service lacks the professional and financial capacity to care for the 27,000 historic structures, 4 million archaeological sites, 123 million museum objects and archival documents in park units it is responsible for protecting. Historic structures were found to be in fair to poor condition in the parks studied. None were in excellent condition. In fact, $3 billion of the $10.5 billion deferred maintenance budget for National Parks is needed for park historic structures. Additionally, overall funding and priority for the protection of cultural resources is not on par with funding for the protection of natural resources even though two thirds of the parks were created because of their historic and cultural significance.
This should come as no surprise to members of the National Trust where, since 1988, we have included 23 units of the Park Service on the 11 Most Endangered Places List including this year’s listing of the Greater Chaco Landscape. Since 1988, the National Trust has included 23 units of the National Park Service on our annual list of America’s Most Endangered Places -- 7 of these were Civil War Battlefields in addition to other icons of American history, places like Independence National Historic Park, Ellis Island, Valley Forge and Mesa Verde. Many of these places were listed because of a lack of funding and maintenance.
NPCA also notes that the ability of park managers to care for cultural resources is hampered by a lack of professional staff trained in historic structure and buildings maintenance. To help address this problem, the National Trust has partnered with the National Park Service to create a preservation and training center at the White Grass Dude Ranch in Grand Teton National Park. To read more about it, see the White Grass website.
The lack of attention and funding for historic and cultural sites managed by the Park Service has become a chronic problem during both good and bad economic climates. Today, with tight budgets and the nation’s attention focused on finding ways to reduce the national debt, some may suggest that it isn’t government’s job to take care of these places - that in times of fiscal constraint, our nation cannot afford to protect is national patrimony. I would argue that we must make the protection of these places one of our highest priorities. If we don’t, we run the risk of not knowing who we are, where we came from, and how, using the lessons of history we can achieve our dreams for the future. There is no better place to learn the lessons of American history than in the places where history happened. And there is no better collection of places of American history than those that are managed by the National Park Service.
Barb Pahl is the Regional Director of the Trust's Mountains/Plains Office in Denver and the Director of the Public Lands Program.