If your local paper didn't run the story, you might be interested to learn about the financial pinch that is preventing the National Park Service from buying private parcels located within the national park system.
This isn't really a new story. The Traveler touched on it early in 2006, and the topic even was mentioned, if only in passing, during the National Park Foundation's Leadership Summit for Partnership and Philanthropy held in Austin in October.
That said, the latest story on the issue, by The Associated Press, nicely sums up the situation.
Within the 84-million-acre national park system are some 5.4 million acres of private parcels, an area nearly as big as New Hampshire. They include wetlands popular for birdwatching at Acadia National Park in Maine, the site of a Civil War hospital at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and Indian cultural sites at Big Bend National Park in Texas.
Many of these parcels have been held for generations by people who owned the land before Congress created the parks.
The Park Service has identified about a third of the private land for acquisition. But in fiscal year 2007, the agency was allocated $24.6 million for buying the property. That is little more than 1 percent of the $2 billion or so the Park Service says would be needed to purchase all the land it wants.
Part of the problem that has handcuffed the Park Service from purchasing some of these plots is a lack of funds, something that can be traced directly back to the Bush administration. In 1999, before President Bush came to office, the Park Service had $139 million to use for property purchases, according to the AP story. Currently, that number has shrunk to less than $25 million.
Beyond the fiscal issue is the social issue. Many of these inholdings were lands privately held before the parks that now surround them were purchased. Should the establishment of a national park double as an eviction notice for someone whose family might have owned the land for a generation or more?