Here's a story that, if imitated often enough throughout the country, might get the attention of the National Park Service, the Interior Department, and even Congress: the Philadelphia Inquirer is calling for the state of Pennsylvania to take Valley Forge National Historical Park back from the federal government.
Because, as Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell has not so delicately put it, the federal government "has run it into the ground."
What's the Inquirer in an uproar over? Well, it seems that National Park Service officials recently turned down a private concern's offer to develop the country's first education center devoted entirely to the American Revolution.
Why? Well, after the center had to turn down a $10 million donation from the Oneida Indian Nation because Congress questioned the propriety of the gift, the NPS thought the proposed $100 million center, at 103,000 square feet, was too big.
In two editorials today the Inquirer questions what the heck is going on in Washington and calls for Pennsylvania to take back Valley Forge, which became Pennsylvania's first state park back in 1893 and then was turned into a national park in 1976.
In calling for the park's return, the newspaper says Valley Forge has languished under federal ownership and, as proof of that, cites a NPS planning document that admits that, "in the 29 years since establishment, little of the progress and protection intended by Congress has resulted. The decline since 1976 is measurable."
Here's another snippet from the newspaper: "Historic structures, 'which were in reasonable condition when conveyed from the state,' are seriously deteriorated, the document says. Much of the park's museum collection, featuring American Revolution military artifacts and documents, is housed poorly in terms of security and preservation. Less than 1 percent of the collection can be publicly displayed."
The proposed American Revolution Center, whose backers hope to move forward even without NPS support, is designed to house more than 100,000 privately owned artifacts, including, the newspaper notes, "George Washington's tent and Abigail Adams' apron."
In a companion editorial the newspaper points out that the center, "with exhibits, theaters and programming, ... would tell not just the story of Valley Forge, but the birth of the nation."
While surely the federal government won't turn over Valley Forge, (and I'm not sure Pennsylvania's officials really want it), this is a perfect example of how our national park system is being run into the ground.
"What's maddening about all this is that the national parks are one area of the $2.472 trillion federal budget where a vast majority of Americans would be happy to see more money spent. The total Park Service budget is just $2.6 billion, a comparative pittance," writes the Inquirer. "Instead of boosting funding, though, Congress is looking to raise money by increasing commercialization inside the parks and selling off assets. One proposal would plaster advertising on park pamphlets and vehicles and sell naming rights to auditoriums, rooms and benches. Another would sell off 15 properties, including one in Philadelphia, for commercial or energy development. Those sites honor Revolutionary War heroes, African American leaders, literary icons, and even the great conservation president, Theodore Roosevelt.
"More ominous, the Bush administration is rewriting the parks' management rules to shift the prime mission from resource protection to use, which could further degrade the parks."
Read the Inquirer's two editorials, and then read my previous post on the news out of Montana regarding the economic impact, and funding woes, of Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.
And then write a letter or get on the phone to your congressional delegation.