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Our View: Use private money to help national parks

Last year President Bush rightly called upon the National Park Service to look for money from outside sources – such as corporate sponsorships and local civic groups – to help maintain our parks. Earlier this week, the park service's new director, Mary Bomar, appropriately echoed those sentiments. Called the "Centennial Challenge," the effort would help repair the parks in time for their 100th anniversary in 2016.

For Del Norte County, spending more dollars on Redwood National Park amenities would be of great benefit by making us an even more attractive place for tourists to visit.

Indeed, great problems exist throughout the nation's parks that will require money to solve: visitor services have been cut, education programs reduced and protection of natural and cultural resources shrugged off because of rising operating costs. Many of our national treasures suffer a maintenance backlog of several years that carry a price tag in the billions.

These problems only are likely to worsen during the years ahead. Operating budgets will rise, staff continue to shrink and facilities age.

We certainly believe the federal government must increase spending on national parks. For too long, the park system has been the 90-pound weakling that gets sand kicked in its face when budget time comes around on Capitol Hill. And lawmakers have found hundreds of billions in pork on which to spend during the past few years.

At the same time, even a dramatic increase in federal spending likely won't provide enough dollars to cover the ailing park system's many needs. Other sources of revenue would help make up the difference.

Everyone should be clear that under the president's proposal no one is talking about selling the naming rights for Lady Bird Johnson Grove or posting "This trail brought to you by Coca-Cola" signs on the Coastal Trail. But corporate – or any other group's – sponsorship could be inconspicuously placed on park maps or given on the park's radio station just as they are on PBS or NPR programs.

A similar effort raised millions in the 1980s to refurbish the Statue of Liberty, and there's no GMAC logo gracing the torch. But the statue was restored. Hopefully, one day our national parks will be as well.

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