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Of Committees and Campaigns


    In the coming weeks, days and months it will be interesting to see how George and Dirk's "National Park Centennial Challenge" comes to fruition. Among the questions I'd like to see answered is why there seems to be a need for an outside individual to lead "the Centennial Challenge effort," as Dirk put it the other day while surrounding himself with the dramatic backdrop of Yellowstone National Park.
    Isn't the director of the National Park Service supposed to be on top of the day-in and day-out needs, demands and challenges of the Park System? Can't Fran leave a "to do" centennial list for her successor, who can add or subtract to it as he/she sees fit?
    Frankly, isn't it the director's job to see that the park system is, as George put it, prepared "for another century of conservation, preservation, and enjoyment"?
    And surely the park superintendents themselves have a pretty good idea of what their respective units need. You'd think they could send a memo or two to Washington. Beyond that, Congressmen Mark Souder and  Brian Baird have been collecting on-the-ground information to push their National Park Centennial Act, which proposes a mechanism for bringing the park system up to snuff. And the National Park Conservation Association has its own lengthy lists of what needs to be done to protect our parks for future generations.
    Simply put, why all the bureaucratic posturing to spruce up the national park system for its centennial?

    Cynics might wonder whether this "Centennial Challenge" hoopla is designed to give the administration an opportunity to forward the "vision" of the American Recreation Coalition and others who would open the parks up to more motorized recreation, commercialization and privatization in the name of boosting park visitation.
    Frankly, it concerns me that national parks are viewed by so many as economic engines that constantly need tuneups to cater to various interest groups. I don't recall that as being part of the Organic Act. Rather, the parks were set up to capture these magnificent places in all of their natural beauty. There was never any intent that they cater to every use and electorate imaginable, to be twisted into whatever forms and uses those groups see as most desirable.
    As the venerable New York Times put it Sunday in an editorial, "...only a determined focus on preservation can keep the parks from being eroded until there is almost nothing left to preserve. We set aside these places because they are extraordinary, because they enlarge our idea of nature and ourselves.
    To be sure, it will be interesting to see whom Fran and Dirk select to head this centennial challenge. Hopefully the end result will be a non-partisan effort to see the parks' myriad needs satisfactorily addressed.
    Whoever gets the task, hopefully they'll spend at least a few minutes viewing the National Park Conservation Association's latest campaign. This beautifully produced video brings home what national parks mean to our children and how easily the legacy that's been left to us can be lost before future generations have an opportunity to appreciate it.
    Study the pictures of children enjoying parks as you watch the video and you'll see that they're having fun without Ipods, without Game Boys, without ATVs or personal watercraft. Hell, they're just having fun in nature.


I think that the outside campaign is necessary because it is clear that the status quo is *not* generating the urgency needed to motivate the Congress to increase the Parks' funding. Given the nature of the republic, I think that *only* outside pressure from the public can make a difference with the Congress. Additionally, while you say that the Parks were set up "to capture these magnificent places in all their natural beauty", it is worth noting that not all Parks were set up because of natural beauty. In fact, I would venture that perhaps even more than half of the 390 National Parks are National Memorials, National Historic Sites or Parks, National Battlefields, or some other designation based upon historical and cultural resources. Places like Lowell NHP, Edgar Allan Poe NHS, and New Orleans Jazz NHP aren't exactly places of natural beauty - which I think again highlights some of the inherent difficulties in managing, and assessing the needs of, such a diverse collection of resources.

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