Statement of Jennifer S. Coken

Congressional Testimony

Jennifer S. Coken
Director, Americans for National Parks

Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
Appropriations Committee
United States House of Representatives

April 5, 2002
Washington, D.C.

   Americans for National Parks is a growing coalition of people who care deeply about these awe-inspiring places. Today, we have 175 members, including nonprofit organizations, private businesses, government municipalities, and trade associations, working together to encourage Congress and the administration to address the needs of the National Park System.

   Americans for National Parks is pleased to share its views regarding the programs in the Department of Interior's budget that affect national park resources and requests that this statement be included in the hearing record for the fiscal year 2003 Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill. We appreciate the opportunity to share with you our priorities for funding and we respectfully request the Committee consider these views as you shape the fiscal year 2003 budget.

   Americans for National Parks requests an increase of $280 million over the current fiscal year 2002 spending levels, $172 million above the president's request, for a total of $1.81 billion in fiscal year 2003 for the operation of the National Park System.

   As you know, the National Park Service has a tremendous responsibility as caretaker of our nation's most valued natural, cultural, and historic resources—managing 385 sites throughout the country. How many among us have explored a rocky trail at Zion? Looked for finbacks surfacing beyond Acadia's Bass Harbor Light? Camped in Yosemite; discovered the ruins at Mesa Verde; paddled the Chattahoochee River; or watched the sun set over a forest of saguaro cactus?

   How many? Nearly 300 million each year! Americans do love our national parks. But the parks are in jeopardy, struggling to operate with only two-thirds of the funding needed.

   While Congress has regularly increased funding for the Park Service, the budget has failed to keep pace with need. The experience of millions of park visitors, as well as the plants, wildlife, and cultural and historical artifacts preserved in our national parks, is threatened by insufficient funding.

   At Acadia National Park, in Maine, for example, despite the best efforts of park staff, endangered species go unmonitored, education programs have been cut, and private vehicles crowd the narrow roadways and cause parking problems and pollution. All because the park's annual budget is half the required amount.

   Examples of the dire needs of the national parks can be found across the system: At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a small staff of preservationists is struggling to preserve the park's many historic structures. One out of every four schools is denied access to Gettysburg's educational programming. The Grand Canyon—one of the geological wonders of the world—does not have a geologist on staff. The Cascades frog is disappearing from Lassen National Park. Historic structures and archaeological sites are deteriorating at Mount Rainier and Glacier national parks. And many of the Civil War-period and early twentieth-century buildings at Harper's Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia are in need of significant restoration to ensure their preservation and visitor safety.

   During the past four years, the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Park Service have completed a series of detailed studies in more than 40 parks that have revealed that the operating budget of the Park Service falls one third short of need. This figure translates to a shortfall of more than $600 million annually. An increase of $280 million represents a reasonable and manageable amount and is a critical step toward fulfilling the mission of the Park Service to preserve these precious places unimpaired for future generations.

   As the president's FY2003 budget justification states, "The primary source of funding for accomplishing this mission is the park operating base. The park-operating base allows the core mission responsibility of the parks to be accomplished."

   The national parks inspire all who treasure the best of our nation to stand up as stewards for their protection. Please support a $280 million increase for our national parks, because there's just too much to lose.


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