AREAS created and managed as National Park System sites are the nation's living treasures, so why are Congress and the Executive Branch treating them like old used cars?--a few dings, a little rust, some knocks, oil leaks ... no problem. NPS has an annual budget just over $2,000,000,000 and manages some 483 sites all around the U.S. and its territories. Congress and the administrations of the past 30 years have allowed necessary repairs and upkeep of our treasures to go largely unfunded, with a current documented backlog of some $12,000,000,000. The only thing being done is adding more parks to the system.
We flat-out have to close some parks, shifting funds and staff to those that are most in need of rehabilitation and restoration. Action has to be taken to prioritize our parks--from one to 483, from the most at risk to the area's most suitable for closure and caretaker status. For the last three decades, park employees have been asked to do more with less, to the point that we now depend on 220,000 volunteers just to meet important public service needs. Volunteers help the parks in the very best of ways, but they cannot address infrastructure issues and the proper utilization of limited funds and resources.
The many beautiful pictorial images tell a story of the parks in grand condition with few problems, but no one takes pictures of poorly maintained historic structures, long lines for restrooms, overflowing parking areas, and failing trails. We have concern, but lack scientific, social, and historic research programs and knowledge in support of our parks and the delicate ecosystems, archaeological sites, and historic structures.
The future of the National Park Service hangs on decisions that are not being made. A review of the past 103 years is a must. Why have parks gotten to this place of concern? Our vulnerable treasures have been subject to misuse, poor funding, failing infrastructure, and a complete lack of proper proactive planning to correct the present situation and prevent future deterioration.
There are ways to correct the situation and actions to be taken at many levels but, most importantly, a process must be put in place that will allow for thinking outside the box of Congress and political appointees. It begins with the establishment of a nonpolitical National Commission, carefully selected from groups actively involved in working with our national parks--charged to review, evaluate, and propose necessary actions.