By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
With a new report this week, along with a glitzy Web site and press conferences, the heads of the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service aimed to boost public and Congressional support for billions of dollars proposed to revamp national parks over the next decade.
At Redwood National and State Parks, those projects could include restoring old logging roads, rebuilding a maintenance facility or building another 31 miles of trails to better connect park lands. Other projects could entail building a one-stop, mega visitor center in Crescent City, restore and maintain Gann's Prairie off Bald Hills Road and renovate Howland Hill Outdoor School, a more than 50-year-old, deteriorating lodge off of Howland Hill Road.
Redwood National and State Parks chief interpreter Rick Nolan called the National Park Service report a morale boost for the agency, noting budget and staff cuts over recent years that have hindered improvement plans.
"Heartening," Nolan called the effort.
The report comes as the U.S. Department of the Interior seeks Congressional approval of a Presidential budget proposal that would raise department funding for fiscal year 2008 and set a course to garner up to $3 billion over the next decade for national parks, in time for a 2016 centennial celebration.
"Getting all the ducks in a row," Nolan said of the effort.
President Bush has called for directing $100 million each year over the next decade for centennial projects. He has also proposed matching up to $100 million in private donations each year with federal money, a move that would also need Congressional approval. The result could provide up to $3 billion in new funds for the agency over the next decade.
For fiscal year 2008 that starts Oct. 1, the president has proposed a $2.36 billion budget for the National Park Service, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The park service got $2.2 billion in 2006 and is expected to use $2.1 billion by the end of 2007.
Redwood National and State Parks would hire 20 new employees under the 2008 budget, with five full-time, permanent law enforcement employees and 15 seasonal workers.
In his report, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne lists problems common to national parks ¬Ė encroaching invasive species, declining fish populations and degraded habitat.
"National parks will become increasingly important as landscapes protected from urbanization," the report states. "Changing climate, weather patterns, sea level, wildlife communities, and regional landscapes will require science-based adaptive strategies and management for our nation's natural heritage to remain intact."
The agency also faces challenges in attracting visitors and junior park rangers, Kempthorne said, blaming video games and computers that keep children indoors. Much of the park service's staff approaches retirement age, while on average, the national population grows older and more diverse.
On Aug. 25, Kempthorne will report on each park's centennial strategy and describe the projects that may get funding in 2008. Department officials have vowed to follow monitoring and transparency standards, but except for a planned annual update from Kempthorne on projects' progress, the agency has not detailed a plan for such measures.
The National Park Service also has not secured specific contributions from donors for the centennial matching program, but expects them from non-profit parks groups and current corporate sponsors, such as Ford Motor Co., Kodak and Discovery, said agency spokesman Jeff Olson.
The agency has planned to use $300,000 of its 2008 budget to set up a centennial office to run the effort. Staff also just completed listening sessions over the spring that collected ideas from around the nation on parks.
"This is a bold and ambitious action plan," Kempthorne said.