President's budget calls for 5 full-time, 15 seasonal hires

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Redwood National and State Parks would be able to hire 20 new employees under President Bush's proposed federal budget for 2008.

The budget would add five full-time, permanent law enforcement employees and 15 seasonal workers to the park's payroll.

About $500,000 each year would pay for the five full-time positions in the section of the park that now employs two seasonal and less than a dozen full-time workers.

andquot;That would be a big boost,andquot; Redwood National and State Parks chief interpreter Rick Nolan said.

Money also would be made available to help prepare the park for the National Park Service's 100th anniversary, which arrives in 2016.

A budget proposal that increases parks' operating funds and raise more private contributions for big projects marks a nice change, Nolan said.

andquot;To have the pendulum swing in the other direction,andquot; Nolan said, andquot;it's a welcome breath of fresh air for us.andquot;

During the past three years, the park has cut a dozen permanent positions from its administration, interpretation and maintenance sections. The smaller staff has cut back the park's projects, tours, programs and routine maintenance chores.

Earlier this month, Bush proposed a $2.36 billion budget for the National Park Service, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, for fiscal year 2008 that begins this year on Oct. 1. The park service got $2.2 billion in 2006 and is expected to use $2.1 billion by the end of 2007.

If Bush's budget proposal is passed, Nolan expects six of the new seasonal workers would join the park's eight seasonal and nine full-time interpreters. Another seven would join the five seasonal and more than 20 full-time workers in the maintenance section.

The rest would head to the park's law enforcement section.

Bush's proposal, billed as the Centennial Initiative, the proposal calls for starting an effort in 2008 to raise more private money and match contributions with federal funds. An estimated $3 billion would fund parks' capital projects, such as additions, trail and building construction over the next decade.

andquot;It is exactly what the parks need to inspire another generation of visitors,andquot; Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has said of the proposal.

Kempthorne and National Park Service director Mary Bomar plan to host public meetings throughout the nation starting in March. The sessions will gauge expectations for private donations, consider contribution proposals and gather ideas on capital improvement projects at different parks.

Kempthorne and Bomar will report recommendations to Bush by the end of May.

Since then-President Woodrow Wilson formed the National Park Service in 1916, the agency has relied on private donations. The service collects about $20 million in contributions each year, along with land for parks and materials for exhibits for the network of nearly 400 sites across the United States. The proposed initiative, though, would mark the service's first formal program to raise private donations.

Its success depends on public response, Nolan said. Redwood National and State Parks may face a bigger challenge, as the Northcoast lacks the large corporations that could sponsor projects in parks closer to big cities.

But the park receives steady contributions and restoration work funding from the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League. More such support could upgrade facilities and visitor services.

Nolan expects to get it if the proposal passes possibly at the end of the year, following Congressional reviews and hearings.

andquot;The special character of the redwood forest is something that has appealed across the country, in fact around the world,andquot; Nolan said.

Reach Hilary Corrigan at