When Americans load up the car with kids and provisions for summer vacations they often head for scenic acreage overseen by the National Park Service.
They rarely have to travel great distances. The more than 400 sites cover 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the Virgin Islands.
It’s all because of the foresight of Americans who decided to preserve and protect our greatest national treasures. The nation recently celebrated a centennial of national conservation efforts; President Woodrow Wilson on Aug. 25, 1916, signed the Organic Act into law, creating the National Park Service.
Yellowstone National Park last Thursday was the site of a sold-out 100th birthday bash. But whether people could be there or not, Americans have a shared sense of ownership of the national parks.
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A National Park Foundation study this summer found that 95 percent of Americans said “protecting national parks for future generations was important, and 80 percent would pay higher federal taxes to ensure the protection and preservation of the National Park System.” That is an incredible endorsement.
Chartered by Congress in 1967, the foundation itself is a treasure. It raises private funds to support the national parks and programs. The Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks has a goal of $350 million to help protect and preserve the parks for future generations. It’s already collected more than $225 million.
About 22,000 National Park Service employees and 221,000 volunteers in the parks care for the national property. That’s no small feat. The fiscal year 2014 National Park Service budget was $2.98 billion and the requested fiscal year 2015 budget was $3.65 billion.
But the National Park Service doesn’t just cost taxpayers money. A report last fall showed that every federal taxpayer dollar invested in the National Park Service generates $10 in economic activity, which is a tremendous boost to the surrounding local economies.
▪ In 2014, 292 million recreation visits to the national parks resulted in nearly $30 billion in economic activity and nearly 277,000 private sector jobs.
▪ In 2015, more than 307 million Americans and people from other countries visited the national parks. That traffic will likely be topped this year.
But just as earlier generations of Americans had the foresight to establish the National Park Service, today’s citizens must ensure that the parks don’t become underfunded, overused and so crowded that no one can enjoy them anymore.
One way to do that is place limits on the number of visitors — particularly at peak vacation times — to ensure that the parks can be enjoyed by future generations.