National Parks Face Deterioration, Budget Shortfalls

U.S. national parks are falling into serious disrepair, facing massive funding shortfalls, and being pushed to reduce services, even as another summer tourist season is about to begin. At many of the 388 national parks, monuments, and other sites overseen by the National Park Service, buildings and natural structures are crumbling, trails and roads are in bad shape, and sewer and electrical systems need replacing. According to the General Accounting Office, the maintenance backlog in the park system amounts to between $4 billion and $6.8 billion worth of needed repairs. Though President Bush vowed in 2001 to “restore and renew America’s national parks” and has earmarked $662 million for maintenance from 2002 to 2005, some $600 million more each year would be needed to start seriously tackling the problem, according to the National Parks Conservation Association. While the number of seasonal rangers — those that typically guide tours and interact with the public — will be cut in the coming season, homeland-security fears mean the number of law-enforcement rangers will rise, so the public will be safe as they watch the slow deterioration of what were once called America’s “crown jewels.”