OK, the National Park Service is swimming in red ink. It can't properly take care of the nearly 400 units it already has. And on December 5th at Niagara Falls, New York, it will conduct a public hearing into whether the agency should help manage Niagara Falls and its surrounding gorge.
What's wrong with this picture?
Niagara Falls has been managed as a New York state park since 1885, making it the nation's oldest state park. I visited there many, many, many years ago as a young boy, and was taken by a museum that, in part, tracked the history of folks who tried to survive a fall over the falls in barrels.
From best I can tell, the state of New York has done a pretty good job, along with help from the Canadians, these past 120 years managing the falls and the surrounding gorge. So why is there a need for the Park Service to become involved by having the area designated a "National Heritage Area"?
Senator Charles Schumer of New York helped start the lobby for the designation. You'd think he'd realize that the Park Service already is suffocating beneath billions of dollars in unfunded maintenance and operations bills.
Those who want to see the designation bestowed say it will help focus attention on the region and bring in more money -- both from tourists and the federal government.
According to a quick review of information at both the Park Service site and a site run by proponents of the designation, visitation to Niagara Falls State Park currently runs around 3.7 million visitors a year. If the National Heritage Area designation is bestowed, the area could expect to see another 140,000 or so visitors a year, and the added economic impact would be about $5.8 million.
The cost to the Park Service would be upwards of $1 million annually to fund operations and projects.
At a time when the Park Service can't convince Congress to fund its current pressing needs, when there are dozens of pending applications for areas across the country to fall under the Park Service's umbrella, and when the Park Service is being accused by some in Pennsylvania of running Valley Forge National Historical Park into the ground, why should the agency be spending time and money on this proposal?
I have nothing against Niagara Falls, but I think Congress and the Park Service could spend its money much more wisely.
Public comment on the proposal will be taken through the end of December. You can make your comments at the link above to the Park Service site.