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Strange Bedfellows In the Parks


    We like our champions chaste, don't we?
    I mean, Mark McGwire's prominence as a baseball slugger plummeted once he was stained by the suspicion that he used steroids to inflate both his body and his home run total. Look at the battles cyclist Floyd Landis has endured to try to clear his name over allegations that he cheated in winning the Tour de France last year.
    Of course, those examples are from the sports world. But I think I'm safe in saying we expect our leaders and those who fight our causes to be pure in their missions. But how pure should they be, and how pure can they be in today's world where power at times has to be consolidated to achieve an outcome?
    I ask these questions in the wake of the news uncovered by Park Remark that the National Parks Conservation Association and the American Recreation Coalition
 have joined forces to forward the president's Centennial Challenge for the National Park Service. After all, these two organizations seemingly have very divergent agendas.

    Don't forget, ARC opposed the final version of the 2006 Management Policies and its membership supports snowmobiles in Yellowstone and personal watercraft in the national seashores. It also seems that ARC much more favors private investment in the parks. Too, their membership is heavily into motorized recreation.
    NPCA's primary mission, on the other hand, is focused on  "preserving the American experience."
    So how did these two organizations wind up as collaborators on the Centennial Challenge?

    The short and long of it, according to Ron Tipton, NPCA's senior vice president for programs, is that the opportunity to secure more funding for the national park system was too great to pass on.
    "We are coordinating with ARC on the centennial because we agree the park system is woefully underfunded and both organizations support the administration's proposed major increase for park operations," he says. "This is a historic opportunity for the parks. I think we need to bring as strong a set of advocates together as possible to take advantage of this opportunity."
    Over at the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Bill Wade, who chairs the group's executive council, is not overly surprised by the NPCA-ARC working relationship.
    "I don't think this 'alliance' is surprising at all. It happens all the time," he tells me. "As a friend reminds me, 'politics is the art of the possible.'
    "Let's think about what has happened. Both NPCA and ARC have been very heavily 'lobbying' (Interior Secretary Dirk) Kempthorne -- each in behalf of its own interests, but, presumably, both for more money for the parks even though they might be at odds about how it should be spent.
    "Then the budget gets announced at the big meeting at Big Meadows in Shenandoah (National Park)," he continues. "Kempthorne wants to look like he's a 'uniter' so he invites reps from both those organizations to the table and suddenly it appears there's an alliance. It would be hard for anyone to say they don't support increases in funding for the parks and it would be hard for anyone to turn down an offer to show support for such a situation."
    Despite current appearances, Wade does not expect NPCA and ARC to take up office space together any time soon.
    "I certainly don't see NPCA and ARC marching down the road in a James Carville/Mary Matalin kind of 'marriage,'" he says. "But even with fundamentally different platforms, there are things that can be agreed upon -- and in this case it was the need for more funding for the parks."


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