Director Mainella Defends Bush Plan to Improve National Parks

Sat July 24, 2004 - West Edition

ESTES PARK, CO (AP) National Park Service Director Fran Mainella insisted President Bush is committed to the national parks and said her agency has “accomplished a lot” despite budget problems.

Mainella spent two days in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park recently. She said the Bush administration has made it a priority to make improvements to infrastructure including buildings, sewage systems and water projects.

“It’s stuff that you don’t do ribbon-cuttings for,” she said.

Earlier this month, the Interior Department said funding for national parks is higher than ever. But critics say the resources aren’t enough to maintain the quality of parks.

The National Parks Conservation Association released a report this year that said the operating budget for the Park Service, when adjusted for inflation, has decreased about 20 percent over the past 24 years.

“If you look at the basics of what we’ve always had to do, we are getting less, not more,” said Ron Tipton, senior vice president of the group.

Rocky Mountain National Park alone has nearly $80 million in deferred maintenance projects and has cut hours at Beaver Meadow Visitor Center. The park saw 3.2 million visitors in 2003.

“The last big infusion of funds was in the 60s, and there was a little blip in the 80s,” park Superintendent Vaughn Baker said. “If we don’t do the preventative maintenance it deteriorates, and that’s what has happened.”

Mainella and Baker agreed that while the $2.56 billion park operations and construction budget is a 20 percent increase since 2001, the increases have not supported base operations. Those include cleaning restrooms, picking up trash and maintaining naturalist programs, all of which have decreased as seasonal worker positions remain unfilled.

“We just don’t have people to staff the offices.” Mainella said. “I think what we’ve done is taken on a crisis situation in our parks. Facilities are falling apart in parks –– once they are gone they are gone –– you don’t rebuild cultural sites or historical sites.”

Mainella said she hopes Congress will continue to increase funding for national parks in 2005. If budget projections go as planned, Colorado would receive an additional $15 million to share among its 11 national parks.

“In theory by 2010, this park would have most of its roads fixed,” Baker said. “But then there are a lot of trails and other things to fix up that would definitely be a big help.”