Investing In America’s Special Places: Strengthening Our Parks For A 2nd Century

September 2, 2015NPF Blog

Today, the Obama Administration announced the National Park Service Centennial Act legislation that would help the National Park Service and our 408 national parks from coast to coast enter their second  century stronger and healthier. 

This legislation calls for the mandatory funding of the Centennial Challenge fund over the next three years. This program, which requires a $1:$1 private to federal match, has proven very effective in the past. In last year’s government funding bill, Congress appropriated $10 million to this fund, which the National Park Service turned into $26 million in support of 106 projects including trail construction and restoration, the development of youth oriented programming, and in-park exhibit enhancements. That’s an impressive rate of return and a practice worth repeating. With $100 million annually, the National Park Service and its partners, including the National Park Foundation, Friends Groups, and others could dramatically increase support for programs and projects throughout the park system.

The legislation also establishes an endowment for America’s national parks housed at the National Park Foundation. An endowment would help ensure long-term support for these special places and the work of the National Park Service. As the non-partisan, Congressionally-chartered, non-profit partner of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation is perfectly suited to house and manage this endowment.

As America celebrates the Centennial of the National Park Service, I can think of no better way to commit to an even stronger second century than a structured system of financial investment that will support key programs and projects throughout the National Park System.

Housing the endowment at the National Park Foundation would allow us to raise private funds to further grow its value, and realize a strong rate of return to the direct benefit of our nation’s national parks.

Additionally there is mandatory funding to tackle the maintenance backlog – more than half of which is comprised of deteriorating park roads and bridges. As millions of new visitors experience the parks for the first time, this funding will help ensure a positive experience and deeper engagement and stewardship of these incredible places.

These funding sources are essential to supplement annual Congressional appropriations and fees, not to supplant the existing support channels. To ensure the strongest future for America’s national parks, Congressional appropriations, fees from park visitors, the Centennial Challenge, an endowment, private philanthropy, corporate partnerships, and dedicated funding for the maintenance backlog are critical components to a viable 2nd century. 

Additionally, this legislation contains a provision to alter the National Park Foundation charter to change the structure of our Board of Directors and authorize annual appropriations to be used on projects and programs across the national parks. These internal changes will bring the structure of our Board in line with our sister foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The national parks mean different things to different people, but their inherent worth is indisputable. We are proud to support the parks and their unique programs and are optimistic that Congress will choose to support a vital, secure future for them. 

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