Senator Coburn Blames Congress, Bloated National Park Service, For State Of National Park System

In a voluminous report, Sen. Tom Coburn blames Congress and the National Park Service for the state of the National Park System.

Just as important programs like Medicare and Social Security have been raided for decades to pay for politicians’ pet projects, Washington has also plundered the National Park Service budget to create new parks and programs with little national significance. -- Sen. Tom Coburn.

Our National Park System has become a bloated, underfunded, kowtowing shadow of the ideal for which it was created, according to U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who lays out his case in a report that casts a withering portrait of Congress as a poor overseer.

In that 208-page report, Parked! How Congress' Misplaced Priorities Are Trashing Our National Treasures, the Republican from Oklahoma blames years of political self-aggrandizement for a park system that carries an $11.5 billion maintenance backlog and which is showing serious signs of decay and, in some areas, insignificance.

But the senator, well-known for pointing out "pork" in the federal government, also describes an overly bureaucratic National Park Service that he paints as a cumbersome agency that spends more on administration and overhead than on the parks themselves.

"... only half of the funds appropriated by Congress even go to the park superintendents, while the national headquarters and regional offices consume more of the NPS budget than facility maintenance projects," the report charges. "Beyond the staff and funding at the individual park units, there is an expansive amount of administrative and specialty support offices and programs.

"In total, the NPS budget provides $455 million to regional and service-wide support offices," the report illustrates. "In comparison, the 59 National Parks representing the 'crown jewels' of the park system receive $442 million in annual general operation and maintenance funds. An additional $168 million is needed for external administration costs such as space rental, postage, and centralized IT costs."

Could The Report Prompt Attacks On The Park Service Budget?

The report, released late Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., and provided in advance of that to the Traveler, comes at an interesting time, less than two weeks after a budget impasse in Congress was resolved and so allowed the national parks to reopen after being closed for 16 days. That closure of the parks generated much anger in some corners of Congress over how the Park Service handled the system's shutdown.

Whether the details of Sen. Coburn's report are used to attack the Park Service's budget remain to be seen. Action on the report could prove interesting, in that it might ferret out wasteful spending by the agency ... or provide justification for a better-funded Park Service.

Regardless, the senator offers plenty of fodder for budget scrutiny, with sections titled Inessential Programs & Activities, Duplicative & Inefficient Programs, Parks As Pork And Political Power, Parks That Are Inaccessbile To The Public, Important Projects But Better Ways To Give Tribute, and Lack National Significance Or Authentic Historical Value.

"Our elected representatives have been too focused on their own parochial political interests to see the state of disrepair that has befallen some of our greatest national treasures. For example, the National Mall —clearly visible from the Capitol and White House— has become a national disgrace, trampled upon and worn out," Sen. Coburn writes in a letter to taxpayers that leads into the report. "Politicians would rather take credit for creating a new park in their community than caring for the parks that already exist. There is, after all, no ribbon cutting ceremony for taking out the trash, fixing a broken railing or filling a pothole."

But the senator's findings and contentions drew disagreement from the National Parks Conservation Association as well as the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, two groups that advocate on behalf of the National Park Service and park system.

"To casual readers or to reporters on tight deadlines unfamiliar with the workings of the National Park System and the budgetary process – it would be easy to think that Coburn offers a multitude of factual information, at times even seemingly compelling info, along with his self-prescribed solutions," said Joan Anzelmo, a former park superintendent and now a member of the Coalition. "However one has to really understand how national parks operate, how the budget process works and how certain funding sources cannot simply be transferred from one authorized use to something Coburn thinks would be a better use of funds.

"... Every criticism and every solution is framed by Coburn to appear reasonable and persuasive but in fact requires cooperation within Congress and the passage of several new laws and new budget formulas," she added in an email. "It is hard to imagine a Congress as dysfunctional as exists now could ever get to the legislation that would be required for the Coburn solution."

At NPCA, Kristen Brengel shared the senator's concern over the Park Service's staggering maintenance backlog, a backlog Congress has contributed greatly to through its budgeting actions.

"There are a number of troubling trends the American public has observed in the last several years – the National Park Service budget hasn’t kept pace with inflation and in the last three years we have witnessed a major decline in National Park Service funding," Ms. Brengel, the organization's senior director of legislative affairs and government relations, wrote in an email. "This year was the third straight year of budget cuts for the National Park Service; most recently the sequester added insult to injury.

"The FY13 cut was a full 8 percent -- or more than $180 million -- below last year in today’s dollars. The funding available to operate our national parks is 13 percent below three years ago," she noted.

"The deferred maintenance backlog is nearly $12 billion and growing; the most critical projects have a $4.5 billion backlog. Over the last decade, the park construction budget has declined by nearly 70 percent in today’s dollars. Senator Coburn’s report doesn’t point out this trend, which is a symptom of the failed Congressional budget process."

Also finding short-comings in the report was Deny Galvin, a former deputy director of the National Park Service and now a member of the Coalition's Advisory Board, who took issue with a number of Sen. Coburn's points.

"This report is really more a criticism of Congress than of the NPS. Most of the programs it criticizes are based in law. The NPS has to administer them," he said after reading the senator's report. "The contention that (the Park Service's) recent actions have exacerbated the (maintenance) backlog doesn’t stand up. Three of the programs it would eliminate have been around for about a half century. (Historic Preservation Fund 1966, Land and Water Fund 1965, National Recreation and Preservation ((RTCA and Heritage Areas)) 1963 with some authorities from the '30s," he said.

As to the senator's contention that "recent actions" have caused much of the problem with the Park Service's maintenance backlopg, Mr. Galvin pointed out that, "(T)he facts seem to argue otherwise. Here are the 12 largest park budgets in the NPS: Everglades, Gateway, Golden Gate, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky, Independence, Lake Mead, National Mall, Sequoia, Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. The newest arrivals on this list were authorized by Congress in 1972 (Gateway and Golden Gate)."

Beyond that, trying to tie the Park Service's budget tightly to the country's national deficit problems doesn't hold up, he said.

"National parks are a tiny and declining part of the federal budget. Today they are 1/15th of 1 percent of the federal budget. In 1981 they were 1/8th of 1 percent. If you eliminated the entire NPS budget it would take about 6,000 years to eliminate the debt," said Mr. Galvin. "There is no indication that expenditures on national parks have anything to do with the deficit. If one goes back to the surpluses of the Clinton years the causes are clear; tax cuts, two wars, Medicare prescription expansion, homeland security expansion, the 2008 crash. Whatever one thinks about the policies that drove these expenditures they have nothing to do with national parks."

Unpopular Parks?

Senator Coburn and his staff spent quite some time combing through legislative park history and Park Service records in assembling Parked! For instance, the report notes that, "(M)uch like bellbottoms and disco, many national parks created in the 1970s are not very popular today. Nearly half of the 25 least-visited parks were established in the '70s."

One of those park units, the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, saw just 604 visitors in 2012. With an annual budget of $193,000, that visitation translated into a visitor subsidy of $319.50, the report notes.

The report also singles out the First Ladies National Historic Site in Ohio, a unit of the park system created through the efforts of a U.S. representative whose wife became founder and president of the "National First Ladies’ Library."

"The National Park Service spends nearly one million dollars per year on a site that only accommodated 9,063 visitors in 2012. That equates to the American taxpayers funding the 25 daily visitors at $110 each," the report says in reference to the First Ladies site. "In total, the museum has received more than $10 million from the federal government since it was opened in 2000. This includes a 2009 congressional earmark for $124,000 that was spent 'to catalogue every book purchased by First Lady Abigail Fillmore for the White House during Millard’s presidency, and then purchase duplicates of those books for the Library’s collection.' A 2008 exhibit featured papier-mâché replicas of nine presidential pets, such as Barney Bush."

When asked about the senator's approach to culling units from the park system, Ms. Anzelmo counters that his approach is too simplistic.

"While Coburn spews out 208 pages of mind numbing information, much of it is lacking context with the examples presented and lacking any grasp of reality with the operations on the ground," she said. "Furthermore, Coburn has reduced the superlative and richly diverse U.S. National Park System to a numerical spread sheet with a goal to lop off lesser known and lesser visited units of the National Park System despite the history they contain and commemorate or the services they provide to their local communities."

Mr. Galvin added that, "(S)mall parks have small budgets. The 14 parks with the smallest budgets would yield a total of around $14 million. You have to eliminate a lot of parks to get to $700 million annually."

In sketching out a massive reform program for the Park Service, Sen. Coburn would raise user fees across-the-board, scuttle many congressional decisions that dictate land purchases for the agency, and put the agency on a bureaucratic diet.

To help right the National Park System, the senator calls for $185.6 million in program cuts that could be directed at reducing the Park Service's $11.5 billion maintenance backlog. Nearly half of that money -- $91 million -- could be obtained, he believes, by performing a top-to-bottom analysis of Park Service spending to "identify and consolidate inter-agency and intra-agency duplication and waste, with the goal of downsizing the regional and service wide support activities by 20 percent."

And Sen. Coburn also calls for the public to pay more for maintaining the parks through higher pass and user fees (bump the annual America The Beautiful Pass from $80 to $110, hike the lifetime senior pass from $10 to $80, "(E)liminate ban on recreation fees for all parks and implement fees where feasible and appropriate"), and through more efficient fee collection systems.

Such changes could generate another $89 million that could be applied towards the maintenance backlog, he contends.

The senator also questions the Park Service's land acquisition decisions, noting that the $107 million it is spending to acquire 1,366 state-owned acres in Grand Teton National Park could be put to better use addressing the park's deferred maintenance backlog. He also wonders why the agency would spend $2.77 million to buy just three acres of land at Virgin Islands National Park.

"Over the last decade, Congress has appropriated $527.4 million through the LWCF to acquire more land for the National Park Service. During that period, the needed repairs on existing NPS land increased by $5.4 billion," the senator's report pointed out. "This policy is in contradiction with the 'fix it first' strategy. No one builds an addition to his or her house when the roof is caving in. Nor should their government."

Mr. Galvin points out, however, that Congress authorized those land purchases.

Looking through the entire report, Ms. Brengel asserted that the senator's approach glossed over the heart of the Park Service's, and park system's, problems -- inadequate funding.

"Americans are proud to have a world class National Park System – Yellowstone, Denali, Joshua Tree, Mesa Verde, San Antonio Missions and Great Basin—some sites are remote and others in our urban areas. All are part of our incredible shared national heritage," she said.

"The majority of the report focuses on whether certain units should be included in the National Park System rather than focusing on the issue at hand -- what is it going to take to ensure we preserve and protect the National Park System in the long term? He may not value National Heritage Areas, a unique program that protects our history without designating new park units, but eliminating the low-cost, innovative program will not fix the agency’s budget issues," added Ms. Brengel.


This outta be fun....

“It is important that the remaining scenic areas of the country be at once made into State or National Parks. Fortunately there still are a number of these wild places, but it will require effort to save them. Each Park proposed will have powerful and insidious opposition. The insidious opposition to National Parks will say, ‘There is a feeling in Congress that we should not have any more National Parks at this time’; or, ‘We should wait until present ones are improved.’” —Enos Mills, Your National Parks, 1917

This same old argument has been used since the beginning of our National Park System. The notorious Interior Secretary James Watt made statements and recommendations that sounded just like Sen Coburn’s anti-park report. Most Americans would never support the kind of radical agenda proposed in the report. However, most people are unaware that this kind of attack is happening. It shows that our parks are never safe from those who would gut them or eliminate them altogether, unless the American people can be rallied to stand up for them.

Park advocates need to do a much better job of informing and activating the public about the need for more funding for parks and the need to expand the National Park System. As outrageous as Sen. Coburn’s latest report is, we need to take it seriously. The last time he went after our parks, he was successful in opening them up to guns. We need a strong national parks movement to prevent this kind of thing from happening again and to offer a positive vision of a bigger and better National Park System in the future.

he was successful in opening them up to guns.

And how has that proven to be a negative?

In Coburn's gun in national parks move, he snuck the amendment into the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights Act. In his current push to get them into COEs, he is hiding them in a water resources bill. He doesn't seem to be able to get things done unless he hides them. But, watch out for attempts this year on his National Park hitlist such as above. Anything he has a hand in is suspect.

He doesn't seem to be able to get things done unless he hides them.

He and 99 other Senators? And it was hardly "hidden". It was well discussed and voted on as a seperate amendment before the bill passed.

I would be the first to push single subject legislation. The reality is that it won't happen. Every bill is stuffed with totally irrelevant (and often unnecessary) items. Just look what McConnell got for caving.

But back to the question - "And how has that (guns in the parks) proven to be a negative?"

Why is there no mention of the stimulus funds conferred to the Smokies, for instance. That was 80 million dollars that got sucked into the kitty toute suite.

Coburn's comments about Great Smoky are that Congress should rescind the prohibitions on fees and collect at least $2(to cover operating costs) and $5(to address maintenance backlog) per visitor. He proposes rescinding all fee prohibitions and charging entrance fees at all NPS sites where it is feasible.

Yes he did, and President Obama signed that bill, so it was a multi-party decision, which has not been negative for the most part.

Sen. Coburn deserves some credit regardless for giving 200 pages of attention to the NPS. NPS has assembled many reports and agendas about its future--Vail, Discovery, Call to Action, Park System Advisory, Law Enforcement reforms....and many of these receive little action. Unfortunately, the a key point in your article is only 1/2 the appropriations make it to the park Superintendents. That is something to focus on. NPS spends a lot of money on political initiatives - climate change for example. There are already agencies doing work in this area - EPA, NASA, NOAA, USGS. NPS needs to stay focused on its preservation and visitor experience mission and use the science from these other agencies to carry out its mission, and focus its dollars on park operations. Politics is making it way to far into the operational levels of the bureaus and offices of our federal system.

Don't see what is so outrageous about the report. Other than criticizing the NPS for too much overhead at the WASO and Regional levels - there's a blinding flash of the obvious to anyone who works in a park - he pretty much blasts Congress and past and present administrations for misusing and abusing the NPS and watering down the mission with multiple requirements and mandates.

Yeah, I get a little defensive about some of the comments, but there is a lot of truth to what's in the report, especially with regards to the addition of units to the system that do not belong.

Well, Coburn does lump WASO in with National Capital Region, National Mall, and National Capital Parks-East as though they were duplicates of one another. The National Mall and National Capital Parks-East are park units, like Yellowstone. The National Capital Regional Office is the regional office for park units in Maryland, DC, Northern Virginia, and West Virginia(Harper's Ferry).

Coburn does make some good points, especially on the continuing trend by Congresspersons to expand the national park system with areas of dubious quality – primarily in the quest for economic development in their home districts.

A good example is the new First State National Monument which finally ended Delaware's perceived shame as the only state without a "national park."

There are plenty more in the "hopper," including "efforts designate Pullman, one of Chicago's southernmost neighborhoods, as a national historical park, the first national park in Chicago and only the second in the entire state of Illinois."

An then there always seems to be local interest for the NPS to take on another presidential site, such as the childhood home of former President W. Bush in a suburban neighborhood in Midland, Texas.

There's sure some irony in this news report: "Rep. K. Michael “Mike” Conaway (R-TX) has been among the most vocal critics of federal spending, claiming that massive cuts would actually create more jobs. But as he publicly pushed to stop “wasteful government spending,” he privately lobbied the National Park Service to turn the childhood home of former President George W. Bush into a National Park.

This would be a good time to declare a moratorium on any new NPS presidential sites for politicians from either party. There's already a mechanism in place for building a presidential library for all recent occupants of the White House. That should be adequate for honoring their tenure without burdening the NPS with more sites it can't afford.

Traveler, interesting post. The quotes from a former and highly respected member of the Washington Office staff for many years, Mr. Deny Galvin, were of particular interest to me. Among facts quoted, 3 years ago, the NPS budget was 1/8 0f 1% of federal budget outlays. Now it is 1/15 of 1%. Considering the untold benefits these National parks, Historic areas, etc, bring to many people and communities, let alone the resources they protect, environmental, historical, etc. I cannot get to excited about Mr. Senator Colburns allegation's. Improvements can always be made, but most of the above just does not ring true for me personally.

If we could somehow find a way to get rid of politicians, we'd solve almost all the challenges faced by the NPS.

Of course rmackie, you ignore the fact that the predominant reason for the shrinkage in that ratio is the growth of the denominator rather than the reduction of the numerator. Lets quadruple the ratio by dropping the denominator. I am all for that.

That ratio is meaningless when it comes to the impact on the parks but it makes for good talking points.

If we could somehow find a way to get rid of politicians, we'd solve almost all the challenges faced by the NPS.

And throwing away our entire Constitutional system would certainly be worth getting rid of the challenges to the NPS bureaucracy.

I'm not sure more fees are the answer, either. NPS had unobligated balances of at least $113M in fees at the end of FY11 and FY12. While these balances are much less than prior fiscal years(where the unobligated balances were $200M+), WASO had to confiscate rec fees from certain parks and redirect them to draw down that balance. The goal in the FY2011 Greenbook was to have unobligated balances down to $80M so the NPS is still above that target.

And throwing away our entire Constitutional system would certainly be worth getting rid of the challenges to the NPS bureaucracy.

So, let's turn a jocular comment into a ridiculous false choice.

All this numerator and denominator stuff is quadrupling my ratio.

The senator should be commended for starting an honest and forthright conversation about the NP system, even challenging the appropriateness of some units established recently by leaders of his party. After all, the U.S. military went through their Base Realignment and Closure process a couple decades ago, so maybe it's time the NPS gets slimmed down. Every unit needs a superintendent, and every superintendent wants a staff to manage.

But the NP system should not be downsized without some input from the agency or a special commission. Congress can't be trusted with the task.

Someone has to start the discussion. He is right that every agency has to start a top to bottom analysis of costs. The answer is always to cut at the bottom-the people actually doing the work. You must look at the areas that are not "boots on the ground". When administration costs are more than is entering the Parks, there is a problem. None of us like criticism but instead of instantly dismissing his report, maybe the NPS needs to look in the mirror and see what can be done to make it more efficient with the funds given. And yes, I am sure that Congress and its mandates are a large part of the problem. When times are tough, the first thing to be examined should be overhead.

For those interested in reading the 208 page report, it is located here: Parked!.

"(M)uch like bellbottoms and disco, many national parks created in the 1970s are not very popular today. Nearly half of the 25 least-visited parks were established in the '70s."?......One of those park units, the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, saw just 604 visitors in 2012. With an annual budget of $193,000, that visitation translated into a visitor subsidy of $319.50, the report notes.

Yes visitation numbers should be the deciding factor. For example, look at all those sub-standard NPs in Alaska. Let's get rid of them because when you look at acreage vs visitors/year, obviously these places simply are not NP worthy

Senator Coburn is well-known for thinking "outside the box" and providing detailed analysis and recommendations where others fail to put forward anything of substance. I think this report should provide a good starting point for discussion about how the parks should be managed and funded.

I also think that the swift backlash from many NPS life-ers is pretty telling. There's a lot of natural attachment and vested interest to an organization to which one has devoted one's life service. And those perspectives should be considered, too, of course. But perhaps there needs to be some shake-up to the old way of doing things.

Are the parks underfunded? Probably. But are there ridiculous mandates, outdated protocols, and wasteful overhead in the NPS? Definitely! And the agency should perhaps take a more realistic and firm stance on future additions to ths system.

Maybe a more neutral arbiter like the GAO can identify some possible reforms, and Congressmen like Sen. Coburn can connect increased appropriations to the NPS to savings from these reforms. Like a "matching contribution" - you save $1, we give you another $1.

And one more thought - my alma mater has an established policy where the college must have in hand an endowment equal to 125% of the building cost of any project (to avoid indebtedness and provide for future maintenance expenses) before starting construction.

Maybe if local communities and Members of Congress are eager to get their own NPS site, they should demonstrate a similar ability to help support the site in the future (through a private endowment, Friends program, etc). Seems reasonable to me. It's great to have the idea of the "common good," but there is also the problem of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs.

And NPS actually requested the defunding of the National Capital Performing Arts Program in their FY12 budget request. Guess what happened?

This is what was included in the conference report for the appropriations bill that covered the NPS for FY12:

"National Capitol Area Performing Arts Program.--The conferees direct the Service to maintain funding for the National Capital Area Performing Arts Program and have included $612,000 for the summer concert series staged on the U.S. Capitol grounds."

edited for wonky formatting

Let's get rid of them because when you look at acreage vs visitors/year, obviously these places simply are not NP worthy

Of course the visitor per acre is a meaningless stat when discussing funding. But you knew that.

In part I agree with the Senator. There do NOT need to be 401 units of the NPS. There are a lot of small NHP and NHS' that could easily be managed by a state or local agency. So many of these places are essentially a congresmans "treat" to their state.

wildfire97, I do understand your point. There is an excellent book on the subject of the NPS and the issue of "Typecasting the Parks" titled "Our National park System" by Dwight Rettie. One chapter of the book, mentioned above, deals extensively with the politics of establishing some NPS units and the criteria set forth by the NPS for recommendation of said. The classic example in the book was the Mar-A-Largo National Historic Site in the State of Florida. I think it is important to review site establishment procedures, understand the complex political incentives in establishing them, etc. One issue of course is who is to decide what has national significance, is relevant, etc. and what is not. I must admit I lean toward the environmental side of the issue, but .... In any case the book is well worth reading for those interested in an analysis of the NPS and many of its policies.

Kurt- Good synopsis. Thanks.

Regarding the Senator's criticism of the regional and servicewide internal structures, I think it's important to remember that the staff in these places are ultimately doing park work. Having these centralized locations takes pressure of the parks to staff (and house) duplicative HR representatives, IT support staff, and data entry clerks-- not to mention the number of programmatic decision-makers needed to oversee more than 20 Congressionally designed fund sources. While it might appear to be overhead, it's not as bloated as he's suggesting.

Here's a comment by one of our more fair and balanced commentators on the American scene, Jim Hightower:

What a show the goofily-fanatical tea party Republicans are putting on in Washington!

Fair and balanced. LOL Yeah, everyone that is "fair and balanced"gets admitted to the Progressive Hall of Fame.

Hazen, Don. "Texas Populist Jim Hightower Makes Progressive 'Hall of Fame,' as Nation Magazine Gathering Grapples with Conflicted Feelings about President Obama".

If the value of a park should be based entirely on its budget/visitor per year, I propose senators be valued on their budget/votes per year. In 2012, it cost the US tax payers $20,900 per vote to keep Coburn in his senate seat. Is he worth that much? He is definitely more expensive than most National Parks...

if Coburn's document was a clear criticism of the Congress' failure to financially support the parks that, by and large, they themselves created, I would cheer him on, Unfurtunately, this is another attack on the NPS itself, citing supposed examples of excessive bureacracy, criticiizing the establishment of parks that promote diversity, promoting the raising entrance and user fees, and robbing the Land and Water Conservation Fuind to erase the maintenance deficit. I know countryman will think that this is another backilash from an NPS-lifer, but we need to be clear aboiut this: the way to resolve the funding issues facing the NPS is to return to the bipartisanship that used to mark the way the Congress financed the parks and programs of the NPS. 401 park areas aren't too many. Which ones would you deaiutorize? Coburn mentions a couple--Steamtown, Ebey's :Landing, Women's Rights. Isle Royale, etc. But each of those areas contain resources that are valuable and are beyond the financial resources to maintain them of the states in which they exist.

No, Dr. Coburn's prescription is not the cure for what ails the NPS. Time to bring in a new Dr.. If you don''t believe me, check his appearance on Fox and Friends (You Tube). He makes so many factual mistaktes, it's embarrassing.


Well, lately it IS fairly fair and balanced to point at the malignancy of the tea party. Except for the more fanatical of their apologists. Pick your friends, EC.

Rick, you know that to a politician, facts and truth are just inconvenient stumbling blocks in their roads to whatever agenda they happen to be pushing at the moment. Your comments here prove that you are one of those rare Americans who understand that.

Now, how do we get the message out to those who haven't discovered it for themselves?

Lee and Rick B (i.e. he who quotes me when he is ignoring me)

I am a conservative. I understand and proudly proclaim that I am a conservative. I don't claim to be "fair and balanced" and I don't claim any conservative sources I use are "fair and balanced". The fact that you would cite Hightower, someone that has been officially recognized as a "Progressive" and someone that has proudly claimed the designation, as "fair and balanced" just shows how out of wack your perspective is.

He makes so many factual mistaktes, it's embarrassing.

Illuminate please

That's weird. Someone somehow twisting the word 'progressive' to be a pejorative. You're right - it isn't fair and balanced to think that.

Ec asked to be "illuminated" about Coburn's factual errors, so here's just one example:

In his criticism of the NPS acquisition of state-owned lands at Grand Teton National Park, Cobun says: "In total, the federal government will spend $107 million to add 1366 acres to the 310,000 acre Grand Teton National Park, expanding the Wyoming park unit by one percent."

These purchases, however, did not "expand" the park by a single acre; the land in question is already within the 310,000 acres included within the existing park boundary. (See p. 93, The National Parks Index 2009-2011.) This purchase simply moves the park closer to completion as authorized by Congress decades ago.

Coburn then shows himself to be a master of "spin" by noting on page 72 of his report, "In December 2012, the National Park Service spent $16 million to acquire 86 acres of land in Grand Teton National Park from the state of Wyoming at a cost of $186,047 per acre. In comparison, the average value of farm and ranch real estate in Wyoming was $540 per acre in 2011."

Here's how a national news story described this land: "For Sale: Part of Grand Teton National Park. Majestic views of the Teton Range. Prime location for luxury resort, home development. Pristine habitat for moose, elk, wolves, grizzlies. Price: $125 million. Call: Gov. Dave Freudenthal."

Hardly in the same category as "average farm and ranch real estate" as Coburn suggests. Another news report in 2010 says an appraisal in 2005 valued this property at $98.5 million, and said "Wyoming officials figure it's now worth between $100 million and $125 million." The agreed-upon price is certainly in line with those figures.

Threats by the State of Wyoming to sell the land for potential development are well-documented in news reports like those cited above, one of which quotes Susan Child, deputy director of the state lands office; she described an example of "highest and best use" for such property as a "new ski lodge."

The value of this transaction has been recognized even by Congress for many years, and attempts to complete this transaction has been dragging on for decades. See, for example, the Grand Teton National Park Land Exchange Act in 2001. Had the land exchange and purchase been completed then, it would have cost less than today.

Unfortunately, people with Coburn's mindset continue to do their best to stall such purchases, and they aren't above using the type of misinformation cited above. Is allowing such land located within a major national park to be developed for subdivisions, a ski lodge or similar uses a great idea? I don't think so, and believe many others would agree. One of the cited news reports notes, "Even in pro-development Wyoming, however, selling off land in a national park isn't a popular idea.

Unless your name happens to be Coburn.

I don't claim to be "fair and balanced" and I don't claim any conservative sources I use are "fair and balanced".

Yup. We've noticed.


Anyone that knew anything basic about Wyoming would know that land values near Grand Teton would be vastly higher than the state average. Apparently, Coburn nor his staff do.

That's weird. Someone somehow twisting the word 'progressive' to be a pejorative.

Never said it was a "pejoritive" but it clearly isn't " balanced" any more than identifing a strong conservative as "balanced".

At best, Jim your arguments are over semantics. They hardly represent factual mistakes. The purchase of the 1366 did add to what was in the park - whether it had been previously authorized is irrelevant, the purchase was an addition.

As to "spin" what in his statement was factually wrong. Not a thing.

Yup. We've noticed.

That is the difference between you and me Lee. I recognize there is a difference in philosophies. There is a left and there is a right. Independent reporters (a bygone concept) can have balance. Those that adhere to one side or the other don't.


Does anyone know where I can find the most recent "cost per visitor (subsidy??)" to keep Sylvan Pass (Yellowstone) open for snowmobiles? Thank you.

The National Park Service lost it's way decades ago turning into an obese top heavy political black hole...Waste Not Want Not was replaced with Indulge!

MM--If I remember correctly, it was in the neighborhood of $180,.000 for the 2 or 3 people that enter the park in the winter per day from the East Entrance.



This was on page 192 of the Final Winter Use Plan/Supplemental EIS

"It would cost approximately $1,482,277 to operate the Lake/East Entrance District with Sylvan Pass closed to all OSV use from the first Monday following the first full week in November through the first Friday of May. The net cost savings for Yellowstone National Park should Sylvan Pass be closed would be $124,868 ($1,607,145 (FY2011 costs for Lake/East Entrance) less $1,482,277 (projected cost to operate Sylvan Pass))."

The Detailed and Seasonal Report for Winter will tell you how many snowmobiles came through the East Entrance(80 in 2012, 69 in 2013).

Rick & Sara,

Thanks for the information.