Don't let the hoopla over National Parks Week and the launch of the Centennial Challenge fund-letting fool you: The state of the national park system is depressing. While recent visitation is up, staffing is down, and park budgets aren't keeping pace with inflation.
That's the bottom line that underscores a five-year analysis, from 2003 through 2007, done by the Deseret News in Utah.
The analysis shows that visitation to parks is up nationally, creating more pressure on them. But the number of "full-time equivalent" employees is down, providing fewer services and less care despite the visitor growth. And increases in operations budgets at most parks are not keeping pace with inflation.
Of course, this isn't really "new" news, as there has been story after story after story on a frighteningly regular basis about the plight of the parks. Not only is the maintenance backlog for the entire park system pegged at more than $8 billion by the National Park Service itself, but individual parks are drowning in backlogs. Some, you might say, are hemorrhaging. They can't afford to fill critical positions, such as that of a landscape architect at the Blue Ridge Parkway, a bona fide staff geologist at Grand Canyon National Park, a botanist at Acadia National Park, and, of course, there's that little matter of doing away with two-thirds of the paleontological division at Dinosaur National Monument.
Thankfully, most units of the national park system are big enough to wear the burden of underfunding and under-staffing seemingly without diminishing your vistas, your experiences, and your vacation. But judging from the current stress on the system, how bad off will things really be when those impacts do arrive?
Take a look at the Deseret News' story, and remember it the next time your congressman or woman comes to town or sends a flier asking for your thoughts on what's important. Don't forget the parks.