What Forever Funding Means for National Parks
Established over 100 years ago, the National Park Service was tasked with a “forever” mission – one that calls upon the agency to protect our country's iconic landscapes and rich cultural and historical sites “for the enjoyment of future generations.” A century later, we are the fortunate stewards of this mission and its promise to ensure our descendants are able to explore and appreciate the majesty preserved within our national parks. As we celebrate the National Park Service Centennial throughout 2016, we must also consider how we can best prepare our national parks for another century of success.
When you're in the perpetuity business, it only makes sense to be on sound financial footing for the long haul. If we are to support the National Park Service in living up to the mission of sustaining our national parks for all visitors and all time, we must fund them accordingly.
According to a groundbreaking 2016 study announced by the National Park Foundation, Americans overwhelmingly agree that our national parks are worth protecting, not just today, but forever. While many would argue our parks are priceless, this first-of-its-kind, peer-reviewed study sets a base line for the total economic value of our national parks at $92 billion, with $62 billion for national parks and $30 billion for their programs including education, historic preservation, and protecting natural landmarks.
Unlike a standard opinion poll, this economic study takes into account how Americans value national parks, whether they visit the parks or not. A remarkable 95% of households surveyed believe in the importance of protecting national parks for current and future generations, and 85% feel they receive a direct benefit from the fact that our national parks simply exist.
While we live in tight budgetary times, how can we best fulfill our national parks’ promise of perpetuity?
In addition to prudent stewardship, sound accounting, and a shared vision, one key ingredient our national parks are currently missing is an endowment. Like those housed at colleges and universities, museums, and hospitals around the world, an endowment for our national parks would make certain that long-term, sustainable funding can support and protect our treasured places now and forever.
The prospect of an endowment is increasingly real: widely supported legislation being considered by Congress would establish a Second Century Endowment to be managed by the National Park Foundation. Governed by widely accepted standards, the endowment would support signature projects and programs across the national park system.
Seeded by park visitor fees, such an endowment would be an attractive vehicle for philanthropy especially now that the baby boomer generation is in the midst of transferring the largest amount of wealth in American history. Increased enthusiasm for philanthropic support, maximized through an endowment, is a critical component of a more holistic funding model for our national parks in their second century and beyond.
Whether in the wisdom of the founders of the National Park System one hundred years ago, or in the 95% of American households today that value protecting our parks for future generations, it's clear that Americans want and our national parks deserve to have stable, long-term funding.
The establishment of an endowment is an important step toward protecting that future, and with $92 billion in value at stake, one we must seize to fully honor our national parks during the 2016 National Park Service Centennial year.