Coming Soon to a Park Near You?

When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed, it included $750 million for the National Park Service “to fund job-creating investments in critical infrastructure and facilities, trail restoration, abandoned mine remediation, and energy efficiency and renewable energy.” Some 800 projects (specific list here, pdf) have been funded, including things like replacing old diesel power generators at Alcatraz Island with solar power, work on the trams that take visitors to the top of the St. Louis Arch, and controlling invasive plants along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then there are basic things like painting structures, repairing roads, and rehabilitating trails in parks all over the place — little things that have been put off for years, and cannot be put off any longer.

But $750 million is a drop in the bucket. Last November, USA Today reported that Rocky Mountain National Park alone had some $50 million in deferred maintenance. RMNP got a shade less than $3 million in ARRA funds, so that knocks it down a little, but still. And that’s just one park.

Then there are state parks.

The photo at the top comes from Alan Levine, aka cogdogblog, who wrote last year,

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is just south of Pine, AZ, about 6 miles from where I live. It features what is called the largest travertine natural bridge (a natural bridge being like an arch, but over flowing water). The “hole” is more than 180 feet high.

According to an article in the Payson Roundup, this little park drew 100,00 visitors last year, and with a raise on fees from $3 to $4 the park is self supporting.

Why close it?

The estimated local economic impact of visitors coming to the park is $3.5 million.

Oh, it makes sense to take that away from the marginal local economies. Already in the small towns of Pine and Payson, at least 2 restaurants are boarded up. That puts a handful of people out of work, and then they are not putting money into the local economy, which has the effect of… spreading the slide.

To me, the staggering stupidity of closing a park like this is much deeper then the grand canyon. Hopefully some of the dusty heads in Phoenix will get a clue.

(Alan’s blog is here.)

Perhaps the pressure from folks like Alan helped, at least a little. Arizona decided to make some parks 5 day a week operations (Th-Mon), and close other parks on a rotating basis — so TNBSP is open right now, though other parks are not.

In California . .. well, let’s let the California State Parks Foundation tell the story:

California’s state parks are falling apart because of decades of chronic underfunding. Budget cuts are causing them to fall severely behind in needed maintenance and repairs—a backlog of more than $1 billion already exists. Twice in the past two years, state parks were on the brink of closure. Only a last‐minute budget reprieve kept them open, however because of budget cuts, nearly 150 state parks have been shut down part‐time or suffered deep service reductions. California’s parks are becoming less available to the public and are at serious risk of irreversible damage.

That pretty much says it. And you can find the same story in every state in the union. The numbers may be different, but the overall picture is the same: bad and getting worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and it certainly isn’t what folks like Stewart Udall envisioned would happen to the parks he labored for years to enhance, preserve, and make accessible to the nation. (Click through for some stunning images.)

On this three day Labor Day weekend, many folks are out enjoying state and national parks. If the Democrats had a clue, they’d be pushing for additional stimulus money to at least begin to keep them open and fix them up.

That kind of stimulus means construction jobs. Manufacturing jobs. Environmental jobs. Tourism jobs. All kinds of jobs, from the unskilled to the semi-skilled to the highly skilled. And all over the country.

Hopefully some of the dusty heads in DC will get a clue.

Meanwhile, enjoy the parks this weekend. If you can.