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Photo: National Park Service

Testimony of Roger Kennedy

Congressional Testimony

Testimony of
Roger Kennedy
Chairman, National Council
National Parks Conservation Association

Re: “The National Parks: Will they survive for future generations?”

before the
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources
of the House Government Reform Committee
U.S. House of Representatives

Boston, Massachusetts
August 24, 2005

   Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, it is my great honor and pleasure to appear before you today. My name is Roger Kennedy, Director Emeritus of the National Museum of American History and former Director of the National Park Service. I am here in my capacity as chairman of the National Council for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), and as a member of the NPCA Board of Trustees. Since 1919, the NPCA has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA and its 300,000 members and hundreds of partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historic, and cultural heritage for generations to come.

   We are gathered here today to discuss the future of our national parks, in particular, those in the northeastern United States. As we rapidly approach the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016 we can proudly boast of a 388 unit strong system that celebrates the natural wonders and cultural heritage that make this nation unique. Still, we must be mindful that our national parks, loved and admired equally in blue states as well as red, face tremendous challenges; especially when it comes to funding.

   An analysis of business plans developed by more than 80 national park units reveals the parks suffer from an annual shortfall in operations funding that exceeds $600 million. Additional investigation reveals the following details about the dire state of park funding:

  • A maintenance backlog estimated at between $4.5 to $9.7 billion burdens the entire park system, draining critically needed funds from day-to-day core operations.
  • Unfunded mandates cost the Park Service approximately $170 million between FY 02 and FY 04.
  • Homeland security demands now cost the parks $50 million annually in recurring expenses they did not have prior to September 11, 2001.
  • Nearly half the maintenance backlog consists of park road and bridge improvement or repair projects (two-thirds of park roads are listed as in either poor or fair condition, while 56% of bridges are classified as “deficient”).
  • Countless historic treasures held in Park Service collections have not been catalogued and are at risk of deterioration.

   Our national parks are suffering from decades of inadequate investment by successive congresses and presidential administrations. The repeated failure to fund new fiscal demands placed on national parks has meant a steady decline in the purchasing power of park managers, and in many cases has forced the Park Service to compromise the services it can afford to provide to the American people and to forego critical resource protection projects. Fulfilling day-to-day core functions, such as ensuring visitor safety and the preservation of natural and cultural resources, becomes a luxury to be deferred until some crisis forces attention those needs. Meanwhile, the ability of the National Park Service to serve as guardian of the nation’s heritage hangs precariously in the balance.

   Goodwill alone cannot resolve this problem. True, the Park Service must continue its efforts to enhance fiscal responsibility, reduce superfluous spending, and improve management practices. But Congress and the American people must play their parts as well. We have a prime opportunity to renew our commitment to these national treasures and invest in their protection to ensure a healthy, happy birthday for the park system and the dedicated staff that continue to inspire the world. And we must, as a nation, rise to the challenge of helping our national parks not merely to survive, but to thrive.

   The financial challenges crippling our national parks did not develop overnight, nor can they be solved quickly. In the 11 years that remain before the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, we have the opportunity and the moral obligation to improve the situation of our parks so they shine in 2016. This will be a challenge, particularly in the difficult fiscal environment that exists today, but it is the kind of challenge to which the American people and the Congress have shown the ability to rise over the course of history. NPCA has identified four key areas that should be addressed through innovative, broad and sustained effort:

  • Enhanced annual commitment by Congress to Park Service operational funding;
  • Enactment of the National Park Centennial Act;
  • Continued and increasing vigor in Park Service management and budgetary practices through the development of business plans by every unit in the system; and
  • Enactment of a robust Federal Highway Bill.

Highway Bill: An opportunity missed

   Congress failed the parks in passing the Highway Bill at the end of July. Pork won and the American people lost. Roughly half of the National Park Service’s multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog is accounted for in road repair needs in the national parks. Passage of the Highway Bill at the robust level for national parks promoted by the administration and included in the Senate version would have helped to significantly reduce the maintenance backlog. Unfortunately, the bill recently passed by Congress provides the National Park Service with only $1.05 billion to address park roads—nearly 75% ($600 million) below the amount the U.S. Senate and the administration said was needed in May of 2005.

   The enormity of the backlog means that even the funding for park roads recommended by the administration and the Senate would have fallen far short of meeting the entire need. But those proposals would have had a genuine impact in reducing the backlog. The paltry funding level in this bill virtually guarantees minimal progress in reducing the road maintenance backlog for years to come, and sadly must be regarded as a missed opportunity for Congress to support fundamental park needs.

   Now that Congress has failed its first test in aiding the parks through the Highway Bill, the only opportunities remaining during the next five years are the annual appropriations process and enactment, Mr. Chairman, of your National Park Centennial Act (H.R. 1124 and S. 886). As you know, the bill would establish a National Park Centennial Fund within the U.S. Treasury, in order to eliminate the backlog and meet critical natural and cultural resource preservation needs. The fund would be financed in part using proceeds from a voluntary check-off box on federal tax returns. The bill creates a grand bargain, because it also guarantees that if taxpayers make contributions to restore and renew our national parks during the next decade, the federal government will provide the difference necessary to get the job done from the general treasury. Thus individual Americans would be given an opportunity to leave a legacy for their children by contributing to the preservation of the most significant natural, cultural, and historic places on the American landscape, and Uncle Sam would promise to get the job done.

   Mr. Chairman, the failure of Congress to follow through in addressing park needs in the Highway bill makes your exercise in holding these hearings increasingly important in educating your colleagues and the American people about the genuine risk continued neglect holds for our beloved national treasures, and about the necessity for taking bold steps to preserve and protect our national legacy.

Introduction: The Notable Northeast

   After viewing an 1877 exhibition of French Impressionists, J. Alden Weir remarked that he thought the paintings “worse than a Chamber of Horrors.” Weir eventually warmed to the style and helped to establish the American Impressionist movement. The bucolic setting of his Branchville, Connecticut farm featured prominently in many of Weir’s paintings. Weir’s slow conversion to impressionism and his influence over other American artists helped to invigorate and redefine artistic expression in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

   Weir Farm is currently one of 45 NPS sites in the northeast that help to tell the complex and fascinating story of how America forged its unique place in the world. And as the New England landscape inspired the art of J. Alden Weir so too has the land made a lasting impression on the natural and cultural legacy of the United States. According to the Park Service, the Northeast Region of the United States contains “one third of all NPS museum collections, a quarter of all historic structures, almost half of the country’s National Historic Landmarks, and more than half of the National Heritage Areas.” From Minuteman NHP where Patriots fired the first shots of the American Revolution to Lowell NHP where the power of New England rivers and the sweat of 19th Century “mill girls” launched our industrial revolution; from the rocky coastline of Acadia National Park to the beaches and ball fields of Gateway National Recreation Area, and from the homes of presidents to the nesting places of piping plovers, the national parks of the northeast educate and inspire.

   Darkening that landscape, however, is the long shadow of an acute funding crisis. One that has plagued our national parks for decades, and one which, on a daily basis, impedes the ability of the Park Service to effectively manage the sites that commemorate our heritage. Under current conditions, the future for our northeastern parks is not an entirely bright one.

Northeastern Parks: Funding at a Glance

   While the national parks of the northeast region remain premier destinations for American families a description of current conditions in these units reveals a troubling situation. At the exact moment when the public is rightfully demanding increased access, the national parks of the northeast must meet that need with diminished capacity. Of the 45 national park units in the northeast, 39 received a base operating budget increase of 3% or less between FY 05 and FY 06. 12 units received no increase to their base operating budgets at all. During this same period, the rate of inflation equaled 3.11%, with an equivalent amount required to pay cost of living adjustments for Park Service staff. The budget request for FY 06 continued this differential, providing for a 2.3% COLA while Congress is likely to mandate one closer to 3% before the year is out.

   While last year’s appropriations bill for fiscal year 2005 provided more money for many parks, the vast majority of this increase went to pay for jumps in costs and unfunded obligations, meaning it did little to chip away at the $600 million annual shortfall the parks face. Instead our parks remain subject to what historian Bernard De Voto called the “progressive impairment of the parks by budgetary bloodletting.”

Base Operating Budget of Select National Park Units of the Northeast NPS FY 2005 ­ FY 2006 (all dollar amounts in thousands)

Unit

FY05 Estimate

FY 06 Request

Increase FY05-FY06*

% Increase

% gap between inflation** and funding request for FY 06

Decrease in real dollars from FY 05 to FY 06 request

Acadia NP (ME)

6,424

6,505

81

1.2

-1.91%

-121

Adams NHP (MA)

2,764

2,818

54

1.9

-1.21%

-34

Boston Harbor Islands NRA (MA)

909

937

28

3.0

-.11%

-1

Boston NHP (MA)

8,527

8,699

172

2.0

-1.11%

-99

Cape Cod (MA)

6,361

6,379

118

1.8

-1.31%

-80

Edison NHS (NJ)

2,007

2,058

51

2.5

-.61%

-13

Fire Island NS (NY)

3,890

3,963

73

1.8

-1.31%

-50

Gateway NRA (NY)

21,573

21,988

415

1.9

-1.21%

-269

Hamilton Grange (NY)

159

159

0

0.0

-3.11%

-5

John F. Kennedy NHS (MA)

310

310

0

0.0

-3.11%

-10

Longfellow NHS (MA)

871

871

0

0.0

-3.11%

-27

Lowell NHP (MA)

9,270

9,397

127

1.4

-1.71%

-165

Saint-Gaudens NHS (NH)

988

1,006

18

1.8

-1.31%

-13

Weir Farm NHS

814

823

9

1.1

-2.01%

-17

*Based on administration request of $50.5 million increase. The fiscal year 2006 appropriations bill provided an additional $10 million.

**Based on an inflation rate of 3.11%.

Acadia National Park (ME)

   Established by Presidential Proclamation in 1916 as Sieur de Monts National Monument, Acadia National Park (renamed and re-designated by Congress in 1929) preserves and protects 46,000 acres of the Acadian archipelago. Acadia National Park contains a wide variety of unique natural and cultural resources from glaciated coastal and island landscapes to the famous carriage roads. The mission of the National Park Service at Acadia National Park is to protect and conserve the “outstanding scenic, natural, and cultural resources for present and future generations.”

   In 2001, Acadia National Park released its business plan analysis based on Acadia’s fiscal year 2000 budget and staffing levels, which provides an excellent base from which to explore current funding trends and needs. The 2001 assessment identified a number of concerns regarding funding levels at Acadia including a $7.3 million budget deficit, an over dependence on “soft money” (including fee demo dollars) to finance park operations, and a pronounced staffing shortfall of 109 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employees.1

   Since that time, Acadia’s annual operating budget has not come close to keeping pace with the rising cost of operating the park. System-wide, mandated cost-of-living adjustments have averaged 3.0% per year between 1996 and 2005. During that same period, system-wide, funded cost-of-living adjustments averaged only 1.3%. The $127,000 budget increase Acadia received as a result of the fiscal year 2005 appropriations bill was offset by a projected labor cost increase of $243,000, putting the park further behind despite a highly successful year for the park system in obtaining operations funding.

   External factors also contribute to Acadia’s budgetary woes. As homeland security concerns have increased, rangers stationed at Acadia have been temporarily reassigned to assist personnel needs at high-priority Park Service sites around the country. These rangers continue to draw on Acadia’s payroll despite their absence from the park.

   Recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) assessments have required park staff to increase their commitment of time and resources towards safety and environmental management. Spot checks, safety training, safety meetings, and stricter adherence to compliance standards, are necessary to avoid penalties and injuries that could amount to several hundred thousands of dollars. Nonetheless, the estimated annual cost to Acadia exceeds $30,000 per year.

   Double digit population growth in Hancock County, Maine, as well as increased construction around Mount Desert Island have forced park staff to invest more funds in enforcing boundary issues, managing conservation easements, and preventing harmful or illegal activities within park boundaries. The fact that parklands are scattered across the island contributes to confusion about the location of Acadia’s boundaries. This uncertainty has led to an increase in unauthorized trail building and illegal snowmobile and ATV use. Staffing shortfalls impede the ability of the Park Service to adequately monitor and enforce regulations meant to protect and preserve Acadia’s vast natural and cultural resources.

   Staffing shortfalls have also led to a restructuring of interpretive programs. Ranger-led hikes have been reduced in favor of family oriented activities that connect park rangers to a maximum number of park visitors. Interaction with park staff remains of remarkably high caliber, but this new approach to outreach is a clear result of a park unit struggling to cope with too few staff and increased visitation.

   The maintenance division at Acadia has suffered from the overall reduction in FTEs. After rehabilitating the Blackwoods camp ground with new restrooms, the park then determined it did not have adequate maintenance staff on hand to monitor and clean the facilities. Over the winter of 2004/2005, Acadia closed all but 3 of 12 restrooms in the park much to the discomfort of many visitors.

   NPS staff at Acadia must protect, preserve, or control 22 threatened and endangered plant species, 4 threatened and endangered animal species, 206 invasive non-native plants species, 147 miles of hiking trails, 44 miles of carriage roads, 27 miles of shoreline scenic drives, 2 beaches, 5 picnic areas, 3 campgrounds, 111 archaeological sites, and 1.3 million objects in the park museum collection. And do so while balancing the need to preserve with the publics right to access and appropriate enjoyment of these resources. Managing such a workload would be difficult enough in the best of times, but the Park Service must meet these challenges in a time of shrinking budgets and overstretched staff.

   What will Acadia be forced to sacrifice? As the park’s Annual Performance Plan for FY04 states, “Hard choices must be made.”

Gateway National Recreation Area (NY)

   When Congress authorized the creation of Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972, their intention was to create a federal recreation area “in the heart of an urban complex.” Gateway was to serve as a refuge for east coast residents, especially New Yorkers, and fundamentally improve their quality of life by providing access for millions of Americans to rolling green spaces, well-manicured ball fields, and sandy beaches. Gateway would be a potent antidote for humans to the stress and strain of big city life, and function as a habitat for a variety of plants and animals, including migratory birds for which the park has served as a traditional stop over point.

   Unfortunately, for over 30 years a persistent lack of attention and funding has halted any progress towards the development of Gateway. Sandy Hook, Floyd Bennett Field, and Fort Tilden are home to dilapidated structures and overgrown fields. The salt marshes and shoreline of Jamaica Bay remain in dire need of restoration. And worst of all, there is no coherent, creative vision in place to help the Park Service effectively and creatively manage this woefully underutilized resource.

   According to Park Service staff, Gateway has in excess of $98 million in unfunded construction, refurbishment, and rehabilitation needs. Far from being a wish-list of far-future desires, Gateway’s exhaustive menu of stabilization and improvement projects focuses on basic upkeep meant to prevent historic structures from collapsing to the ground, shorelines from eroding needlessly into the sea, and ball fields from being consumed by weeds.

   Gateway staff have requested $579,000 to replace the roof, windows, and doors of the historic Torpedo magazine, $10 million to rehabilitate athletic fields at Miller Field and Great Kills Park, and $72,000 to remove asbestos tiles discovered in the basement of building 210 in Fort Wadsworth.2 Additional requests include $88,000 to correct code violations in the maintenance and office shops, $143,608 to replace the law enforcement patrol boat at Sandy Hook, and $1.3 million to pay for a general management plan. As of August 2005, Gateway had not identified any sources to provide the money required for the completion of these projects. The gaps created by insufficient funding not only impede the ability of the Park Service to manage Gateway effectively, they also present safety hazards to NPS employees and park visitors, and contribute to the slow but steady demise of the health of the park’s natural and cultural resources.

   Between FY 04 and FY 05 Gateway received a 3.0% increase to its base operations budget. An anemic 1.9% increase between FY 05 and FY 06 failed to keep pace with the rising price of fixed costs and places Gateway staff even further behind in their efforts to protect and enhance the park.

   NPCA’s New York Regional Office is committed to helping the Park Service and partners throughout the region and across the country craft a positive vision for Gateway. One that would elevate public awareness of the park’s needs and potential, and galvanize federal and state support for a bold plan of action that would reverse decades of neglect that have stymied any meaningful progress from taking place. NPCA’s vision for Gateway matches the plan originally put forth by Congress a little more than three decades ago, in that we see possibility of a well-funded, well-managed national park that provides an unparalleled visitor experience for millions of people each year. But until Congress and the American people muster the commitment to act on behalf of Gateway, the park’s potential will remain a dream deferred.

Cape Cod National Seashore (MA)

   The mission of the National Park Service at Cape Cod National Seashore is to protect the natural and cultural resources along the 40 miles of beach and over the 44,000 acres that serve as one the northeastern United States’ most premier recreation and vacation destinations. On the surface, NPS staff at Cape Cod appear well on their way to fulfilling that mission.

   For example, the Park Service has almost completed a major renovation project at the Salt Pond visitor center. Beginning in April of 2003, major renovation of the salt Pond facility began. $3 million was devoted to completion of the project, which included upgrading the utility systems, removing lead paint and asbestos, and installing fire suppression systems to bring the building up to code. The enhancements also included improved handicapped access within the facility and around the grounds, reduction of pollutants entering Salt Pond from park’s septic system, and the addition of a new comfort station next door to the visitor center.

   On schedule for completion this fall is the reopening of the Salt Pond museum and the installation of a modern audio-visual and public address system. The park’s museum collection will be reinstalled after the repairs are finished. Additional landscape and trail maintenance work will complete the project.

   But although there is good news to celebrate at Cape Cod, funding shortfalls contribute to management woes at this park as significantly as they do elsewhere in the northeast. NPS staff at Cape Cod have referred to the challenges created by successive tight budgets as “death by 1,000 cuts.” For example, inadequate funding has led to a drastic reduction in the number of law enforcement rangers at Cape Cod. The park’s current protection force is deployed primarily near the visitor centers, parking lots, and beaches, leaving vast portions of the park without an NPS law enforcement presence. As a result cape Cod staff have witnessed a rise in the looting of artifacts and encroachments upon park boundaries by in-holders. Park Staff estimate that the addition of ten more seasonal law enforcement personnel would restore their ability to adequately monitor and protect the park.

   Similarly affected by funding shortfalls is the park’s lifeguard program. Cape Cod receives over 4 million visitors each year, 70% of who visit the park for the express purpose of going to the beach. From mid-June to Labor Day visitors are charged a $15 beach fee, from which $10 is set aside to tackle backlog maintenance projects and $5 goes to fund the lifeguard program. The beach fee usually raises about $350,000 to support the 48 seasonal lifeguards posted at Cape Cod’s 6 designated swim beaches.

   Normally, recreation fee money of the type generated by the beach fees could not be used to pay for a lifeguard program. Cape Cod was able to obtain a waiver, but the deferral must be applied for on an annual basis. Failure to secure the waiver would necessitate termination of the lifeguard program altogether as there are no other funds available with which to pay for the service.

   The renewal of the Cape Cod lifeguard program should not be an annual waiting game. Nor should the staffing levels at premier destinations such as Cape Cod be reduced to a point where law enforcement rangers are able to protect the parking lots but not the park. In the strategic plan for Cape Cod covering FY 00 to FY 05, park staff warned:

   “We would, however, be remiss in our duties as stewards of the priceless natural and cultural resources that are in our care if we did not note that we sincerely believe we are under-funded and under-staffed to fully achieve our important mission and goals.”3

   A sign in the salt Pond visitor center describing the rehabilitation work that had taken place there states that the projects completed were “not visibly apparent but… vitally important” to protection of park resources and visitor safety. At Cape Cod, one might say the same of the park’s funding needs

Hamilton Grange National Memorial (NY)

   Upon completion of his term as the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury (1789-1795), Alexander Hamilton commissioned architect John McComb Jr. to build a home on a 32-acre estate in upper Manhattan. Hamilton’s Grange was completed in 1802. The acquisition of the property and construction of the “Grange” cost Hamilton $30,000. Hamilton had hoped that proceeds from the sale of vegetables grown on his farmland would offset the exorbitant cost of his estate but quickly reconciled himself to the fact that "The greatest part of my little farm will be dedicated to grass."

   He lived there for only two years before being killed in a duel on July 11, 1804, by his political rival Aaron Burr. In 1889, the Grange was moved approximately 400 feet to its present location to accommodate the expansion of the New York City street grid. The property was slated for demolition but then purchased by a local church for use as a parish house. Finally, in 1962, an Act of Congress established the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, and directed that the house eventually be relocated and “preserved in a fitting setting” for proper administration and interpretation as a national memorial.

   At the present moment almost all the pieces are in place to accomplish the goals of the 1962 restoration plan for Hamilton Grange. An easement from New York City Parks & Recreation for the use of one acre in St. Nicolas Park (approximately 400 feet from the present location) was approved several years ago. The New York State Assembly, the State Historic Preservation Office, all relevant agencies, various community groups, and numerous elected officials including Representative Charles Rangel, have reviewed and approved the restoration initiative.

   Conspicuously absent from the process, however, is the $10,465,105 needed by the Park Service to complete the move. Initially placed in the FY 06 construction budget, the money was subsequently removed from the Executive Budget. Park Service officials have pledged that full funding for this important project will be included in the FY 07 budget. In the meantime, the only home founding father Alexander Hamilton ever owned languishes in neglect.

   Hamilton Grange is in poor condition with very limited public access. The Alexander Hamilton Historical Society has referred to the present site on 141st Street and Convent Avenue as “a third-rate national memorial with few furnishings and bare interpretive material.” A base operations budget increase of 0.0% between FY 05 and FY 06 will further impede the ability of Park Service staff to protect and enhance the Grange and educate the public about the legacy of a man much too significant to be confined to the dust bin of history.

   Alexander Hamilton was one of General George Washington’s closest aides de camp during the American Revolution, and led the American assault on Redoubt Number 10 during the Siege of Yorktown. He later co-authored the Federalist Papers, was a signer of the Constitution, and was an early proponent of Abolition. He was a man of humble origin who became, as Theodore Roosevelt observed, one of the keenest minds of his generation. Delivering Hamilton’s eulogy in 1804, Governor Morris exhorted the gathering to protect Hamilton’s fame. “Let it be the test,” he said, “ by which to examine those who solicit your favor.” It is a test that we, some 201 years later, have largely failed.

Longfellow National Historic Site (MA)

   The current condition of Longfellow National Historic Site provides a stark contrast to the state of affairs at Hamilton Grange. A recently released NPCA State of the Parks report finds that public and private partnerships have greatly contributed to preserving and enhancing the well being of the natural and cultural resources at Longfellow. Still, the consequences of inadequate funding have managed to adversely impact this park in a variety of ways.

   The Longfellow House was built in 1759 for John Vassall, a wealthy loyalist. Vassall abandoned the house on the eve of the American Revolution and General George Washington used the Georgian style home as a headquarters during the 9-month siege of Boston. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow first came to the house as a boarder in 1837. He received ownership of the house in 1843 from his father in law as a wedding gift and would write some of his most enduring poems and translations while living there.

   The Longfellow National Historic Site remains home to vast archival and museum collections dating from the late 17th to the mid-20th centuries. The Longfellow family library alone contains 14,000 volumes. On exhibit or in storage are 35,000 items of historic furnishings and decorative arts, rare documents, letters, and family journals, as well as 12,000 photographs. These heirlooms connect visitors to the daily lives of the Longfellow family and trace generational interests and participation in the most significant events in American History including the Revolutionary War, the Abolitionist movement, the Civil War, women’s education and equality, and emerging trends in American art and literature.

   NPCA’s 2005 State of the Parks report concluded that Longfellow benefits from the active presence of a strong friends group and a broad network of supporters that help fill critical service gaps and “complete projects that would not otherwise be possible.”4 For example, NPS staff and their colleagues have made considerable progress in cataloging the Longfellow collection and protecting and preserving the cultural resources in their charge. The park has also maintained a high degree of public access to archival materials and works with 450 researchers on an annual basis. Restoration of the formal garden and house forecourt is underway, and an on-line tour provides visitors with an introduction to the museum collection as well as background on the 250-year history of the house and all its various occupants.

   Much of this success is due to the fact that Longfellow has not had to rely solely upon annual appropriations to support core needs. Since 1998, the park has received just under $5 million in grants or special projects funding from a variety of sources both private and federal. The Friends of the Longfellow House completed a capital campaign in 2005 that raised $800,000 to support landscape enhancement projects. The Save America’s Treasures program has contributed $1 million to conserve “at risk” portions of the museum and archives collection and $90,000 for archaeological work. These contributions have given Longfellow a boost not readily available to other NPS units in the northeast. And still challenges linked to inadequate funding remain.

   The $400,000 annual funding shortfall prevents Longfellow from filling key maintenance and curatorial positions. A large number of the park’s cultural resources are stored in attics without proper security or environmental controls, thus making them susceptible to damage and loss. And public access to Longfellow has suffered the most from inadequate funding; the park remains closed eight months of the year and open only five days per week during the summer months, restricting access for school groups and other visitors.

   Simply put, the park’s operating budget has not kept pace with rising costs. A 0.0% increase to Longfellow’s base operations budget between FY 05 and FY 06 will exacerbate the short-term challenges for resource preservation and visitor access, and create a host of long-term challenges to the health and well being of the park. Despite the best efforts of enthusiastic volunteers and philanthropists, circumstances at Longfellow prove that there are still some critical park needs that must be more fully addressed by Congress. Friends groups should provide a margin of excellence for our national parks, but never a margin of survival.

Weir Farm National Historic Site (CT)

   In the 1980s, artists in residence Sperry and Doris Andrews became concerned about the impact of nearby development on the future of Weir Farm. A coalition of supporters formed the private non-profit Weir Farm Heritage Trust and, with backing from larger conservation organizations, purchased as much of the original Weir Farm property as they could, managing it until a suitable owner could be identified. The farm was listed on the register of historic places in 1984, and soon thereafter the Park Service began a study to determine the feasibility of adding Weir Farm to the National Park System.

   Weir Farm National Historic Site was established on October 31, 1990. The mission of the site is to preserve and interpret the “historically significant properties and landscapes” associated with the life of painter J. Alden Weir. Weir Farm is currently one of only two national park units that focus primarily on fine art.

   When it comes to funding Weir Farm has two stories to tell. The Weir Farm Heritage Trust has done an exemplary job of supporting park improvements and engaging the public, especially artists and art students, with education, outreach, and visiting artists programs. Park Service and Heritage Trust partnerships with Western Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, and local communities have helped to establish Weir Farm as the beau ideal of the appropriate mix of preservation, enhancement, and public access.

   Nonetheless, funding needs continue to hamper the ability of Weir Farm staff to effectively manage the park in a way that ensures the brightest possible future. For example, unlike Longfellow National Historic Site in Massachusetts, Weir Farm does not have ample collections of work produced on site by the owner, family members, or guest artists in residence at the farm in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, paintings by contemporary artists in residence are displayed in greater numbers at the park than Weir’s own work. Possession, preservation, and interpretation of Weir’s artwork is a vital component of the Park Service mission at Weir Farm. But even as Weir’s paintings are donated or acquired with private funds there exists no gallery or “museum-quality exhibition and storage space” on site in which to display or warehouse precious works of art.

   The situation at Weir Farm is a perfect catch-22. As the park’s general management plan states, Weir Farm’s “modest collection of art and its minimal facilities must be enhanced to support” interpretive programming. Yet, without the financial wherewithal to provide for proper storage and display bringing irreplaceable cultural resources to Weir Farm would be a potentially disastrous mistake. Without the ability to safely exhibit and store valuable works of art, Weir Farm remains a place of inspirational beauty with all the untapped potential of a blank canvas.

Adams National Historical Park (MA)

   Adams National Historical Park commemorates the prominent place in American History of a unique and distinguished family that helped to found the United States and shape the principles that guided the nation’s early development. The 14-acre park includes the birth homes of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the Old House (home to four generations of the Adams family), the United First Parish Church, historic gardens and landscapes, and an estimated 87,300-item collection of artifacts. Adams National Historical Park has the distinction of being the only historic site in the country “where the stories of two presidents can be told from birth to death.” Adams National Historical Park was designated part of the National Park System in 1946.

   In 2001, NPCA issued its inaugural State of the Parks Report on Adams National Historical Park. From a possible score of 100 the report rated the condition of the park’s cultural resources at 72, and the condition of its natural resources at 64. The assessment regarded these scores as “fairly high,” but concluded that should the “current administrative policies and management practices prevail…” the condition of the natural and cultural resources at Adams would “likely deteriorate” over the next ten years. Funding will play a key element in determining the future condition of Adams National Historical Park.

   The operational deficit faced by the park adversely impacts the ability of the Park Service to care for and provide public access to a remarkable trove of historic artifacts that include a wet pressed copy of the Declaration of Independence presented to John Adams in the 1820s. Public access is limited because the park is closed from November to March. And during the months the park is open, the current visitor center does not adequately prepare visitors for their park experience.

   235,000 people visited Adams in FY 04. That number is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years due in part to the success of David McCullough’s recent biography of John Adams, and an upcoming HBO biographical mini-series on the Adams Family produced by Tom Hanks. John Adams and his family are undergoing a renaissance in popularity at the very moment when the country has failed to fully support those tasked with commemorating their great legacy.

   Guided tours are the only way for the public to gain access to the birth homes, Old House, and Stone Library, the structures that contain the artifacts and objects that help give life to the story of four generations of Adamses. Highly qualified interpretive rangers lead the tours and provide expert commentary on the homes and the people who lived in them. But to accommodate a maximum number of people, the visits are brief and frequently crowd visitors into cramped viewing spaces. In such close quarters and under such conditions, irreplaceable heirlooms sit or stand one errant turn away from being damaged or destroyed.

   Increasing the amount of storage and exhibition space at Adams would alleviate much of the problem. In 2001, nearly half of Adams National Historical Park’s collection storage facilities did not meet professional museum standards for preservation. A secure, well-designed visitor center could also play an important role in enhancing interpretation and improving the visitor experience. The display of key artifacts (such as the John Adams’ copy of the Declaration of Independence) in a proper exhibition space would provide visitors with the opportunity to consider such items under less rushed and cramped circumstances. The current visitor center cannot house such important documents because non-Park Service maintenance personnel have independent access to the building.

   The staff at Adams have taken measures to address some of these concerns. The park recently completed the rehabilitation of the Carriage House, adding a climate control system to ensure the protection of the artifacts stored in that building. Grant money has been awarded to upgrade the park’s security system, and, in direct response to the needs identified in the 2001 State of the Parks report for Adams, $86,000 has been donated to assist with the conservation of the archival and artifacts collection.5 Still, no money has been set aside to support a new visitor center.

   While the park waits to receive the money from Congress to buy or build a new visitors center, many precious and irreplaceable artifacts remain on view with only the diligence of Park Service staff and a velvet rope to protect them from accidental or intentional harm.

Boston National Historical Park (MA)

   The mission of the National Park Service at Boston National Historical Park is to provide visitors with a coherent view of the history of Boston’s revolutionary era generation. The park’s 2.5-mile Freedom Trail guides visitors past 16 sites and structures that explain the prominent role the City of Boston played in the transition of America from colony to independent nation. From Dorchester Heights, where General Washington maneuvered the British out of Boston, to the deck of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, Boston National is chock-a-block with some of the most well know icons of the American Revolution.

   In FY 04 just under 2 million people visited Boston National. Such numbers are a strong public endorsement of the significance of the stories preserved and shared at Boston National and confirmation of the pivotal role NPS plays in enhancing public knowledge and understanding of our history and culture. Yet, between 1990 and 2003, Boston National had the lowest rate of growth of all park units in the New England Cluster.6 Consistently flat budgets forced park managers to make “service level adjustments and eliminate positions and curtail services.” How odd and troubling it is to note that this premier classroom on the American Revolution is also one of the least adequately funded National park units in the northeast region.

   During the 13-year period from 1990 to 2003, a pronounced lack of funding forced the park to drop 16 FTEs (from 118 to 102). Only one other unit in the 17-park “Granite Cluster,” Saugus Iron Works, reported a loss in FTEs for those same years. By comparison Boston African American, Saint Gaudens, and Salem Maritime managed to increase their number of FTEs by 5, 5, and 12 respectively over the same period of time.

   As a result of the dire financial conditions, core programs and services at Boston National have been reduced or phased out. As of FY 03 the School Outreach Program had been reduced by 80%, guided Freedom Trail tours had decreased by 70%, and staffing at Dorchester Heights had been cut back from full time to 3 days a week.7 Insufficient staffing levels still hinder Park Service efforts to conduct “cyclic and preventive maintenance” on buildings, and exhibit and monument maintenance has been eliminated altogether.

   Unfunded mandates and unplanned expenses have taken their tolls on Boston National’s spending power as well. In FY 03 the park was required to pay for a government sponsored employee transportation subsidy program that drained $26,147 from the operations budget. A lead paint abatement project in one of the park’s housing units cost $100,000. Repair of the air conditioning compressor in the visitor center totaled $5,000. Regional or national support for these expenses is sometimes forthcoming. But more often than not Boston National must absorb the cost of unplanned expenses on its own.

   Even projected expenses are taking a bigger bite out of Boston National’s budget. As the price of line item expenses such as fuel, vehicle leases, snow removal, utilities, mandatory training, and other “essential services,” increases at a faster pace than the park’s budget, an ever-increasing percentage of operations dollars must be devoted to simply keeping the lights on. As any budget officer in the Park Service will tell you, fixed costs are “fixed” in name only.

   Boston National did receive $1.2 million in FY 03 for homeland security enhancements. That funding, however, was exclusively directed to support law enforcement and ranger functions tied to homeland security. A more robust 8.0% increase to the base-operating budget was enacted between FY 04 and FY 05, and the number of FTE positions at Boston National rose in FY 04 to 112. But the park remains a long way from making a complete recovery from decades of financial neglect. A subsequent 2.0% increase for FY 06 signaled an abrupt halt to any plans to provide Boston National with the kind of significant, long-term investment the park deserves.

   In the meantime, visitors continue to stream into Boston National to see the places and learn about the people who helped conceive our nation. At Charlestown Navy Yard the public will enter the visitor center through the one working door, its cracked glass held in place by tape, after passing a brick wall from which the NPS logo has either fallen or been torn from its place. The remaining bare screws and outline of an arrowhead are silent but powerful symbols of our neglect and the park’s distress.

Minute Man National Historical Park (MA)

   The British foray to Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, was meant to prevent a war, not start a revolution. But by the end of the day 73 British soldiers and 49 colonial militia ­ minute men ­ lay dead, and the opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the crisis between England and America had vanished into thin air. Minute Man National Historical Park was established in 1959 to preserve “the sites, structures, monuments, and landscapes associated with the beginning of the American Revolution.” In FY 04 more than 1 million people visited Minute Man and learned about the series of unplanned actions and events that helped move the country several steps closer to independence.

   The funding story at Minute Man is equally as complex as the history the park interprets. Between FY 04 and FY 05 the park received a healthy 8.4% increase in base operations funding. In FY 05 park managers reallocated $30,000 from travel funds to support operations, and received $138,000 to “restore visitor services.” According to park staff, these increases allowed “closed facilities to be reopened & primary resources to be adequately maintained.”

   There is, however, a sense that this success may be ephemeral at best. Funding shortfalls forced Minute Man to reduce its number of FTEs from 39 in 2000 to 26 in 2005. The result is that even recently reopened facilities and structures suffer because the park does not have enough staff to perform routine care and maintenance. The park has been able to keep both its visitor centers (Minute Man and North Bridge) open, but Minute Man facility is only open from April to October.

   Heading into the FY 06 budget process, park staff at Minute Man submitted a request for an increase of $442,000 to their operating budget. The funding, if received, was to cover routine maintenance of new and rehabilitated facilities in the Battle Road Unit, the development and implementation of educational programs and interpretive services at FY 04 levels, and the establishment of an “alternative funding/leasing program designed to increase income by renting appropriate park-owned facilities to non-profits and local business people.

   Unfortunately, the life-support provided by the increase in base operations funding between FY 04 and 05 was followed by a weaker appropriation in FY 06. With the rate of inflation hovering at 3.11%, the 2.2% increase in base operations funding—nearly one percent below the cost of inflation--stalls progress towards addressing the enhancement, programmatic, and staffing needs at Minute Man.

Conclusion

   The national parks of the northeastern United States protect, preserve, and interpret some of our nation’s most prized natural and cultural resources. But significant funding shortfalls make it increasingly difficult for the men and women of the Park Service to serve as guardians of the nation’s heritage. Successive years of insufficient budgets have eroded the actual spending power of parks in the northeast, and contributed to the slow but steady decline in the ability to manage the day-to-day core functions of parks in an effective manner.

   In the northeast, this remains, for the most part, a quiet crisis. The professionalism and “can do” attitude of Park Service employees has created an organization adept at overcoming obstacles and delivering a high level of service to the public. Still, the stresses of coping with inadequate funding are beginning to manifest themselves in many parks in increasingly visible ways; closed facilities, reduced public access, less interpretive and educational programming, management by crisis, diminished law enforcement capabilities, and compromises to visitor safety and enjoyment, are all symptoms of a larger disease. We can and must do better for our national parks.

   The 388 units of the National Park System are special places that inspire--that teach our children about the history of the United States and the wonders of the natural world. They are truly the most significant natural, cultural and historic places on the American landscape. Our parks need a national vision that matches their greatness, and ensures that the legacy of our National Park System will long endure, benefiting generations of Americans yet unborn.

1 Acadia’s Business Plan: An Assessment of the Park’s Operational Needs. 2001, p.2.

2 Amounts taken from a park spreadsheet listed “unfunded funding components” projects for Gateway National Recreation Area, August 10, 2005.

3 Cape Cod National Seashore Strategic Plan FY 00 to FY 05, p. 4.

4 State of the Parks, A Resource Assessment: Longfellow National Historic Site. The National Parks Conservation Association, August 2005.

5 E-mail communication between Adams Superintendent Caroline Keineth and NPCA intern Bryan Feahner, August 15, 2005.

6 Taken from unpublished fact sheet received from park staff in August 2005.

7 ibid.

 


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