From an educational "traveling trunk" for Women's Rights National Historical Park and power systems to biodiversity inventories and efforts to develop tomorrow's national park stewards, the 110 Centennial Challenge Projects and Programs that are being funded for 2008 offer a little something for most folks.
More than $50 million in a one-to-one, public-private match will be invested into the national park system in the coming year. There are many laudable projects, such as the nearly $2 million that will be spent on biodiversity inventories at Acadia National Park, Big Thicket National Preserve, Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, Death Valley National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Yellowstone National Park, and Yosemite National Park.
Then, too, $110,000 will be invested in a coral reef rejuvenation program at Biscayne National Park, $80,000 will be spent on developing a virtual interactive map of the Fredericksburg Battlefield at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, and $418,258 will be used to "Assess, Document, and Preserve Mesa Verde's Cliff Dwellings for Future Generations."
But there are some head-scratchers. For instance, why is the installation of water, electric and sewer connections to 10 campsites at Hot Springs National Park, at a cost of $29,991, considered a centennial project and not being funded out of the park's annual operations budget? The same question arises around the decision to spend $2.8 million to "replace and upgrade programmable logic controller for arch trams" at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. And it comes up regarding the $540,000 to be spent on a new boat ramp at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
And while $1 million is earmarked for a project to "connect diverse communities, schools and media" with Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just $200,000 (out of a $600,000 proposed cost) was allocated to launch the "Institute at the Golden Gate" whose mission would be to "advance preservation and global sustainability." At a time when the National Park Service is busy with climate-change research and working to become more climate friendly, it seems the institute would have garnered greater support.
At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Bill Wade agrees most of the projects seem laudable. But that doesn't mean the coalition doesn't have its concerns.
"We will continue to raise the question about quid pro quo. We would wonder, for instance, what the 'Metro Business Enterprises' expects to get in return for it’s million dollars plus for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial project; or what the unnamed private donor expects in return for his/her $45K for the Morristown project," said Mr. Wade. "And, we continue to be concerned that these kinds of projects don’t necessarily reflect the highest priority needs of the NPS, because a 'partner' is needed for the matching funding.
"What about all the utility system and road and trail deficiencies that are out there - projects that are critical but lacking a partner? So, while there are good things to be accomplished by these projects, they clearly skew the priorities for the needs in the NPS," he added. "Some needs will fall even further behind because NPS monies that otherwise might be used for them now are being matched with 'partner' funding to accomplish less critical projects."
The projects, which will be financed with $24.6 million in federal funds and nearly $27 million in private dollars, are just the first in a series that will lead up to the National Park Service's centennial in 2016.
“Today we celebrate getting the first Centennial Challenge projects off the drawing board and into the parks," said NPS Director Mary Bomar. "We also look forward to the day Congress passes Centennial Challenge legislation so that through 2016 there will be federal money available to match up to $100 million a year of donations. There are many more worthy projects partners are ready to support for the Centennial."