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Talking Points...and Points of Concern


    National Park Service officials in Washington, no doubt aware of the gloomy picture the Government Accountability Office painted last week with its report on underfunding for the national park system, don't want their field employees to face the general public without answers.
    So, earlier this week the folks at HQ shipped out a memo of "Talking Points on Park Operations" that Park Service employees can bone-up on in advance of the busy summer season.
    Right from the start the memo stresses the need for straight talk regarding funding problems and how they've affected park programs and maintenance. But it quickly adds that the public should know that, "There's two sides to the story and the public should know NPS employees are innovative and creative in taking care of resources entrusted to us while providing excellent visitor experiences."

    Along with some pats on the back -- "Our satisfaction rating is over 96 percent nationally, and has remained high for years. That's a clear indicator that budgets have not reduced visitor enjoyment." -- the memo strives to get across the point that while dollars are scarce, innovation will save the day.
    "The NPS has a host of management initiatives to help keep pace with the economic realities of the 21st century. We have proven we can be effective in serving our visitors -- now we must be more efficient as well!"
    Of course, just as HQ is rolling out these talking points, some newspapers across the country have their own views on what's happening to the national park system. Over at the Kansas City Star,
an editorial yesterday came right out in the first sentence to lament that, "The National Park Service is losing a battle to protect and  preserve America's most popular natural and historic resources."
    "Given the parks' immense popularity, Congress and the president should give parks a higher priority in the federal budget," the editorial goes on to say. "The public would applaud more rangers and better park maintenance."
    In Maine, the Morning Sentinel recounted the GAO report and mentioned that the Friends of Acadia group met with the state's congressional delegation to discuss the need for more funding for staffers and land acquisition.
    Going back to the talking points memo, NPS officials in Washington believe, despite a proposed $100 million cut in their FY2007 budget, that the agency can get the job done with its current resources and a little ingenuity.
    "The NPS will do its part to keep costs down while fulfilling our stewardship responsibilities for preserving natural and cultural resources, and maintaining high visitor and citizen satisfaction and support," reads part of the memo.
    One example of being more efficient, the memo points out, can be found in Denali National Park, where officials are thinking of increasing climbing fees to help pay for the increasing costs of managing the park's mountaineering program.
    At the same time, the memo hints of the agency's desire to see volunteers come to the rescue.
    "Public support and volunteerism has been a long American tradition -- it continues to help support our national parks move ahead regardless of spending levels," it says.


I think that they are greatly misrepresenting that "96% satisfaction" statistic. Of course it would be hard to go to some place as amazing as Yellowstone and "not be satisfied" - but they shouldn't kid themselves that people don't notice outdated exhibits, or that it is harder than ever to spend time with an experienced Park Ranger while in the Park.

We used to hear this in the Air Force (I was on active duty for 10 years and in the Air Force Reserve for another 16 years). It's called do more with less. And it is a pernicious trend. Here again, the problem is only likely to worsen pending a great waking up by the mass confused public.

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