Last August, when Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne went to Yellowstone to mark the National Park Service's 90th birthday, he took time to announce the "National Park Centennial Challenge." That challenge, of course, is how the Bush administration plans to get
the nation excited about the Park Service's centennial in 2016.
At the time, Dirk gave a short speech to applaud the park system and relayed President Bush's request that Americans provide suggestions on how the country might best mark the centennial. Now, it's been six months since the Interior secretary announced the Centennial Challenge and we really haven't heard too much more about it.
Well, that's all about to change. Last week during a meeting with her National Leadership Council, a group comprised of top National Park Service managers from across the country, Park Service Director Mary Bomar shared plans for an upcoming series of "listening tours."
These sessions, she said, are intended to gather "input from Americans from all walks of life (and from our own NPS team) about their ideas and recommendations for national parks in the next century."
Now, as I said, we haven't heard much about the Centennial Challenge since last August, other than that top officials from the National Parks Conservation Association have been meeting with Dirk and his staff to plan the birthday bash. And we haven't really heard much from Mary, as she's been busy getting settled in her new job, meeting with her staff, and working to get her arms around everything she needs to as director.
But things much be going well, as she's brimming with enthusiasm about the future.
"It is the right time, the right place, and the right team -- from the (Interior) Secretary to the NLC to the men and women of the NPS," she said in a note sent out recently throughout the Park Service. "The future is brighter than ever, and I know I will have your support as we make great things happen. Thank you for all you do -- I hope to see you in a 'listening session' soon."
Now, there's been no announcement yet of when that listening tour will begin and what cities and towns will be on its agenda. However, we should soon get some insight into Mary's enthusiasm, as the president's fiscal 2008 budget proposal is scheduled, I believe, to be made public next week. In that budget we should, hopefully, see a financial boost for the Park Service, courtesy of the Centennial Challenge.
Hopefully when that news breaks we'll be able to share Mary's enthusiasm for the future of the park system.