Saturday, October 16, 2010

Missoula panel says public supports national parks despite threats

Chelsi Moy of the Missoulian (Montana): Despite the many threats to the country's national parks - including a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog, development along park borders and global climate change - a panel of experts on Friday was heartened by continued public support and respect for America's great outdoors. "Even during these tough economic times we saw visitation increase by 4 percent," said Theresa Pierno, executive vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association. "It tells us how important they are to the American public."

Pierno was one of four panel members Friday morning who discussed the future of the National Park Service as part of the 20th annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference, a five-day event hosted by the University of Montana.

…A $9 billion backlog of maintenance projects continues to grow within the National Park Service. Half of that amount represents road repairs, Jarvis said. Only $2.8 billion is for "critical systems" such as wastewater treatment plants. The Park Service dedicates $250 million annually to fix these problems, "but we're losing ground at a rate of around $650 million a year," he said.

The NPS generates around $250 million a year in fee collections. Unlike the Bush administration, Jarvis said he doesn't support increased fees to generate additional revenue, and is afraid it might discourage people from visiting parks.

Instead, he wants the annual revenue to begin generating interest rather than sitting in the U.S. Treasury, and suggested developing a large endowment to pay for maintaining national parks into the future. "We need to make sure the national parks are getting the kind of funding that they need," Pierno said….

Sunset at Angel's Landing in Utah's Zion National Park, shot by Diliff, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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