WASHINGTON — A Senate report released this week says the National Park Service needs to take care of the property already in its inventory and suggested that members of Congress take a break from adding new properties to the financially struggling system.
“Instead of proposing new national parks on the moon, Congress should be focused on restoring our decaying national treasures right here on earth,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and the report’s author.
“Long before the government shutdown and sequestration, our parks had become a physical manifestation of Congress’ dysfunction,” Coburn said.
The report, “How Congress’ Misplaced Priorities are Trashing Our National Treasures,” blames Washington politicians for using the park service to advance their parochial interests instead of maintaining the national properties, and outlines numerous instances of wasteful spending.
For example, the top ten most visited parks last year had a $2.6 billion maintenance backlog, while limited resources were instead spent on items such as wine trains, Elvis boats, neon sign restoration, teachers’ symposiums, car shows, DC area-concert subsidies, folk festivals, inflatable fair rides and video game production, the report said.
Meanwhile, Congress spends nearly $530 million every year to purchase more private land to add to the National Park Service’s holding.
Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton was in Washington this week for meetings of the Conservation Leadership Council, and told The Colorado Observer afterwards that most of the parks proposed for national designation would be more suitable for city or state parks.
“There is a tendency to designate places as national parks that don’t really merit that designation,” Norton said.
“The crown jewels really are already in the National Park Service and ought to be managed as the priorities that they deserve,” Norton said.
The national park system was originally created with 35 park unit, but has expanded to more than 400 parks that cover more than 84 million acres.
In July, two Democrats introduced legislation to claim property on the moon as a national lunar park.
If acquired, the moon artifacts would join more than 121,000 museum objects already preserved by the park agency.
The National Park Service was heavily criticized last month after shuttering the entire system during the partial government shut down, erecting new barricades at numerous sites and deploying armed guards at others to block taxpayers from entering the public lands.
Norton said the agency was “over-enthusiastic” in its response, and that some of the parks could have easily remained open including Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
“Clearly, there are historic treasures, museums and buildings that need to have supervision in order to allow the public to enter,” Norton said. “Shutting down the government requires shutting down those kinds of facilities.”
“But when I was a kid, I used to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter with my family. You would never see a ranger, you would never see anybody out there regulating people’s use of (the park) — people were able to enjoy it and I think there are a lot of places where they could have allowed the public to enjoy the national parks and not artificially cut back on public access,” Norton said.
“I heard there were some places where they had more people guarding to prevent the public from getting into areas than they ordinarily would have had to manage the areas,” Norton said.
House Republicans are investigating the system-wide closure, and pushing legislation to repay states like Colorado that gave the federal government a check to reopen key parks.