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National and state parks benefit our state

Editorial by Lindsey D. Waldenberg

 

For one hundred years now, the National Park Service has been a fervent protector of America’s most treasured places. From the country’s coastal plains to its desert mountains, the National Park Service preserves the places that represent the nation’s natural majesty, rich culture, and vibrant history. Yet our beloved parks need more than $12 billion in needed repairs to maintain their operations.

Dedicated rangers and other park staff tirelessly protect our parks, but the sheer scope of the deferred maintenance backlog is what makes this such a challenge. Unmaintained trails, crumbling roads, and outdated visitor centers all cry for care, attention, and funds. Such threats endanger the future of these treasured pieces of America’s heritage.

Negligence is no way to treat some of our country’s most important places. Our national parks face these challenges in large part because Congress has failed to prioritize their care. The entire National Park Service budget makes up just 1/14th of one percent of the federal budget, and the agency’s budget continues to decline.

This reduced budget results in fewer staff numbers, which limits each park’s ability to guide visitors, protect wildlife, and ensure the park’s upkeep. With the National Park Service staff down last year by more than 10 percent from 2010, park superintendents just don’t have the resources they need to properly run our parks.

No park is immune to this affliction. Big Thicket, the first area established as a NPS national preserve to protect its unique biodiversity, faces serious threats to its future. As a sprawling preserve in southeastern Texas, Big Thicket comprises of over 90,000 acres split among nine land units and six water corridors. The preserve’s fragmented areas make Big Thicket particularly susceptible to large-scale real estate development, highway expansion, and destructive oil and gas exploration. In addition, the national preserve suffers from low staff numbers, operating with fewer personnel than in the 1980s. This small number of rangers, interpreters, and other staff, combined with a tight budget, have prevented the preserve from operating at its full potential and properly protecting its resources from poaching, illegal dumping, and other destructive behaviors. Such staffing and monetary constraints have jeopardized the park’s maintenance and creation of much-needed infrastructure that encourages prime visitor use and enjoyment.

These challenges adversely impact visitors’ encounters with national parks. Furthermore, unmaintained resources could discourage visitors, subsequently impacting the surrounding communities that depend on these parks for their economies. National park visitation greatly aids the American economy; in 2015, these parks generated $32 billion while supporting hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs. As for Texas, national park visitors spent $262.5 million in 2015, boosting the state’s economic input to $372.6 million.

Our parks, whether a vast wilderness or a bridge that connects history, need our help. Congress created the Park Service a century ago to protect America’s treasured natural, historical, and cultural sites, and to ensure that Americans can enjoy these treasures. It is Congress’s responsibility to ensure the agency has the resources it needs to fulfill that mission.

Our members of Congress need to work together to make funding our parks a priority again. In this centennial year of our National Park Service, Congress must commit to making sure our parks have the resources and support they need to continue protecting America’s favorite places.

Lindsey D. Waldenberg is a Graduate Assistant at Texas State University.