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Unknowns In Terms Of Funding And Personnel Await New Units Of National Park System


With a handful of new units of the National Park System to be ushered in once President Obama signs a half-trillion-dollar defense authorization bill, National Park Service officials are not exactly sure where they'll get the money or personnel to bring the new parks to life.

But they're optimistic they'll find a way.

The new units include Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico, which has been under the U.S. Forest Service; Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Nevada; First State National Historical Park, which has been a national monument, in Delaware, and; Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The defense bill also would create a Coltsville National Historical Park in Connecticut; create Lower East Side Tenement National Historic Site in New York City, and; designate the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which would be spread across a handful of states, from Washington state to New Mexico and on to Tennessee.

Three of those units -- Coltsville, Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York, and the Manhattan Project -- would be delayed while land acquisition and agreements are reached between the Park Service and local and state governments and, in the case of the Manhattan Project, with the Department of Energy.

The defense bill does not provide funding for any of the units, and so the Park Service will have to find funds within its existing Fiscal 2015 budget to move the units from paper to creation before planning appropriations specifically for the units in the Fiscal 2016 budget, which won't arrive, at the earliest, until next October.

Park Service spokesman Jeff Olson said Saturday that the agency hadn't yet drafted any specific guidelines for getting Tule Springs, Valles Caldera, Blackstone River Valley, or First State open. First State, of course, currently is operating as a national monument, but has just one employee -- the superintendent -- and a modest $200,000 budget.

“The drill is that people get detailed to these parks, and that’s how we take care of getting the door open," Mr. Olson said during a phone call. “We’ll have to look at these four and see what we can do.”

When First State National Monument was designated by President Obama in 2013, the Park Service had to borrow money from within the Northeast Region to help fund it.

While in the case of First State National Monument just one employee was assigned to the park -- Superintendent Russ Smith -- Mr. Olson said the numbers can vary when units are added to the park system.

"I think there have been cases where more than one person has been detailed. Each park has different circumstances," he said. "We’ll do the best we can to stand them up initially, have somebody in the community and get the planning process" under way.

“Things start slowly for new parks, there’s no doubt about that," he added.



Blackstone is in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, not New York.

Thanks for the fact-checking, Sara. We've fixed it.

Actually the Valles Caldera was not being run by the US Forest Service. It was managed by a Trust which was charged with becomming financially self sufficient by 2015. That was impossible. There were some good things about the Trust which were incorporated into the bill to transfer to the National Park Service. Overall the trust model did not work and should not be tried elsewhere. The land was owned by the USFS but they were not managing it.

Also the bill transferring the VCNP to the NPS provides that the staff shall have first shot at the jobs under the NPS. We expect most to continue in their positions.

Tom Ribe

News article today has some local perspective on one of these new sites: "Coltsville faces hurdles before official national park status".

This local story notes, "There are several conditions included in the legislation creating the Coltsville National Historical Park that will take some time to meet before the site that includes the home and factories of Elizabeth and Sam Colt can be honored with that designation."

"And it’s likely to take years more before Coltsville bustles with visitors who flock to see the old factories and a new museum in the East Armory, a vision promoted by Coltsville supporters who say the park will be an economic boon to the city and the state."

A good summary in the above link of the long-term challenges ahead before this park becomes a reality.

As another correction, the bill will not "create" Lower East Side Tenement National Historic Site.   The Lower East Side Tenement Museum was designated as a National HIstoric Site and Affiliated Area of the National Park System in 1997.  This law won't really change that - it does expand the National HIstoric Site designation to include a second building, but it doesn't change the Affiliated Area status of the site.
Also, it should be noted that "regular order" for Congress is to establish Naitonal Parks without additional funding.   That's because national parks, under "regular order," are created by "authorization laws" that come out of the public lands committees.  These committees actually do not have the power to appropriate funding for the parks - that power is reserved for the appropriations committees, which under "regular order" pass separate legislation known as "appropriations laws."  

True on the Tenement site, Sabattis, and true on the funding process. And that's the problem that has contributed to the deficit and the woes of the Park Service. It's far easier to create and expand units and demands on the NPS than it is to provide the funds for establishing and maintaining those units.

It's akin to if your spouse went out and bought everything in sight, leaving you to figure out how to pay for it, all the while you're trying to pay off last year's bills. That's why as a household you actually develop and try to adhere to a budget, something lost on the Congress.

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