Buried in 2,500 pages of President Bush's proposed federal budget is some good news for Del Norte County: A substantial increase in National Park Service spending.
Bush's budget for fiscal year 2008 would boost National Park Service spending by $230 million. It's the first phase of an ambitious plan to spend $3 billion on our parks between now and the system's 100th anniversary less than a decade away. The plan includes $100 million of federal funds that would match private donations to the park service.
Congress should go along with this spending plan.
Bush's proposal provides real dollars to a national treasure that has long been underfunded. It would help hire 3,000 new park rangers to maintain facilities and keep the public safe from criminals. Campgrounds would be improved, trails maintained and restrooms cleaned and trash removed more frequently. New brochures would be available for visitors, and aging displays would be improved. Many of these improvements would be seen by 2008.
Every park, monument and historic site that the National Park Service oversees including Redwood National and State Park receives dollars in the proposal. For Del Norte County and the Northcoast, that's a ray of sun amid a federal budget that usually casts a gray pall over our needs and interests. Anything that would help improve our local parks makes them all that more attractive to tourists people who dine at our restaurants, shop at our stores and in many cases stay in our hotels.
Critics unfortunately have called Bush's proposal a "gimmick" and an "illusion." "Our national parks are national treasures, and their funding is a national responsibility," said Congressman Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. But budget deficits are no illusion, and it's unlikely that Washington can give the parks service all of the funding it truly needs. Private partnerships can help fill the gap just as they do at PBS and National Public Radio. Indeed, Ron Tipton, a senior vice president at the National Parks Conservation Association, the private group that lobbies for more parks funding, believes the president's plan will make a difference. "Every park in the system, for the first time ever, would get a real dollar increase," Tipton said. "It would make a real difference."
Given this, we urge our local congressional delegates Reps. Mike Thompson and Peter DeFazio and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to support this element of the president's budget. While these four delegates as Democrats may find fault aplenty with President Bush, one matter all can agree on is that our great national parks deserve more financial support. The president's proposed budget provides that.