Editor’s note: Without adequate funding, you can’t quickly repair your leaking roof, or hire enough employees to meet your customers’ needs and demands. At the National Park Service, the lack of adequate funding across the board threatens the agency’s mission, landing the issue of park funding on National Parks Traveler’s 3rd Annual Threatened and Endangered Parks list.
A veritable flood of dollars – literally billions – is flowing into the National Park System to address maintenance projects long overdue for attention, but as heartening as that influx is, there’s still an imbalance in how the National Park Service is funded that goes beyond bricks and asphalt.
One example is that the bulk of the maintenance spending is heading towards brand-name parks. Indeed, scroll through the first 50 projects funded through the Great American Outdoors Act, legislation designed intentionally to address the park system’s maintenance backlog, and you’ll see multiple projects funded for Blue Ridge Parkway, Yosemite, Shenandoah, Mount Rainier, Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
Projects proposed for Fiscal 2022 also seem tilted towards larger parks: Glacier National Park (multiple funded projects), Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Everglades, Mammoth Cave, Blue Ridge Parkway (multiple), Great Smoky Mountains, Big Bend (multiple), Yellowstone (multiple).
“I would say the Service has made a decision on priorities, which is spend the money in the bigger parks, where you can actually get more bang for your buck,” one superintendent told the Traveler on background. “There’s a huge Catch-22 in this organization, which is, the larger the park, the higher the capacity of the park, to not just spend the money but to identify good projects. Most parks don’t have a professional architectural and engineering and contracting staff. And so, there’s no question there are needs in the small parks, but their ability to actually execute is less [than found at parks such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite.]”
For seven decades, at least, the National Park Service has struggled to keep fiscally fit as parks, monuments, seashores and other units have been added to the park system without requisite funding accompanying their establishment, and the conflict continues despite the billions of dollars now flooding into the agency.