Funding Shortfalls Endanger National Parks

Date:   January 4, 2002
Contact:   Eileen Woodford, 617-338-0126, or 617-529-2848 (cell)

Funding Shortfalls Endanger National Parks

Washington, D.C. - The National Park Service (NPS) lacks sufficient funds or staff to protect some of the most important national parks and historic sites associated with the American Revolution and the establishment of our nation, according to a recent survey by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). The survey, which covered 12 national park units from Massachusetts to South Carolina, revealed that at current funding levels, NPS cannot maintain these parks to the high standards Americans expect of their national parks and as required by law.

"The fundamental problem is a lack of the funds needed to protect these invaluable cultural resources as they should be protected," said NPCA President Thomas Kiernan. "These national parks honor America's quest for freedom and liberty at the end of the colonial era and celebrate the birth of the American way of life, but they suffer from years and even decades of disgraceful neglect, threatening their survival as places of homage to the heroes of our past." The surveyed parks and historic sites, which represent the road to democracy in America, include the birthplaces of early presidents, battle sites of the Revolution, and the meeting halls and public squares where the Revolution was born.

Key results of the survey are:

1. National parks lack the funds to keep battlefields, historic buildings, rare museum collections, archives, and important archaeological sites from deteriorating.

§ NPS needs $15 million to $17 million immediately to repair Federal Hall National Monument in New York City, which was severely damaged when the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11. Federal Hall marks the site where George Washington took the oath of office to become the first president of the United States.

§ The roof leaks at the Old South Meeting House, a part of Boston National Historical Park, and staff recently discovered a serious mold infestation in the Old South collection of artifacts. This park tells the story of how increasingly oppressive British rule led from the Boston massacre in 1770 to open revolt in 1775 at the battles of Lexington-Concord and Bunker Hill.

§ The Yorktown unit of Colonial National Park in Yorktown, Virginia, lacks sufficient funds to maintain 39 miles of historic earthworks. Yorktown commemorates the last major battle of the American Revolution, in which George Washington's troops defeated the British army under General Charles Cornwallis and won independence.

2. National parks lack the funds and staff for research critical to advancing the understanding and preservation of these key places in our nation's history.

§ Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts, does not have a curator to manage the 87,000-item collection. The park also lacks an historian. Adams tells the story of John and Abigail Adams, who were central figures in the American Revolution. John Adams and his son John Quincy were the second and sixth presidents of the United States, respectively.

§ Saratoga National Historical Park, Stillwater, New York, cannot afford the comprehensive archaeological survey needed to understand fully and care properly for the park's historic resources. The battle of Saratoga is among the 15 most important battles in world history, the site of an American victory in 1777 that led to a critical alliance with France.

3. National parks lack the funds and staff to tell America's important stories.

§ Minute Man National Historical Park, Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, has only four permanent interpretative rangers to serve the park's 1 million annual visitors. Minute Man commemorates the first battle of the Revolution—"the shot heard round the world."

§ Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is open to visitors for only five months of the year. The 18th-century mansion that utimately became the home of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow served in 1775-76 as George Washington's first headquarters as commander-in-chief of the newly formed Continental Army.

4. National parks are facing serious threats from outside their boundaries.

§ Residential and industrial development is encroaching upon the historic surroundings of the battlefield at Kings Mountain National Military Park, South Carolina. As a result of a defeat at Kings Mountain in 1780, the British divided their forces in the South, ultimately leading to General Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown in 1781.

§ A proposed housing development on a 72-acre private inholding at Valley Forge National Historical Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, threatens the integrity of the park as does Representative Joe Hoeffel's proposal to locate a veterans cemetery in the park. Valley Forge commemorates the terrible conditions that the Continental Army endured while encamped there in the winter of 1777-78.

Of the 12 parks surveyed, only Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reported that it had sufficient funding. Independence is home to the Liberty Bell and includes the site where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed by representatives of the 13 colonies.

"These parks are global symbols of humanity's struggle for liberty and self-government," said Eileen Woodford, NPCA's northeast regional director and coordinator of the survey. "They commemorate the foundations of American democracy. If we do not find adequate funding for these parks, they will deteriorate beyond saving."

This debilitating lack of funding is no surprise. NPCA's financial analyses at nearly 40 park units nationwide indicate that the National Park Service annual operating budget falls at least $600 million, or more than 30 percent, short of what is needed for the park system as a whole. Funding to protect our national parks has failed to keep pace with burgeoning pressures from increased visitation, pollution, and development adjacent to parks. Simply put, the national parks will remain in jeopardy unless funding levels are increased and then targeted within the NPS operating budget for the protection of natural and cultural resources.

President George W. Bush has proposed to correct this escalating problem by providing $4.9 billion for the National Park System over the next five years. "This commitment could alleviate many of the threats that plague the Democracy parks, but only if most of the money is directed to programs designed to enhance resource protection and visitor education," Kiernan said. "The President's proposal focuses almost exclusively on the backlog of park maintenance projects, and only a portion of these projects are important to resource protection. It is essential that a substantial amount of the $4.9 billion be redirected to the operating budget and targeted for improved park resource protection and interpretation. Focusing strictly on the maintenance backlog is a Band-aid™ approach that has been tried for years but does not solve the problem in the long run. Starving the operating budget simply creates a larger and larger backlog."


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