Questions Loom As National Park Service Looks To Next 100 Years

Sep 2, 2016

Old Faithful
Credit Penny Preston

While the National Park Service celebrated its 100th year of existence recently, the beloved federal agency is trying to figure out how to make it through the next century, while protecting the national parks “unimpaired for future generations”. Some people are concerned new funding sources may put corporate logos in the parks.

144 years after Yellowstone National Park was established, people from around the world still gasp and cheer when Old Faithful erupts.

Yellowstone was created by an act of Congress in 1872. It was not only America’s first national park. It was the world’s first national Park.

A man dressed in round spectacles said, “I was 57-years-old at the creation of the National Parks.”

Yes, that was Theodore Roosevelt, or actually Joe Weigand of Manitou Springs, Colorado, presenting as Theodore Roosevelt at a Yellowstone News conference on the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. He made it clear people are often mistaken about his part in the Park Story. He did not help create Yellowstone National Park.

He explained, “I was thirteen. That’s how old I was when I got my glasses.”

But the former president did create five national parks during his administration, and acted to protect Yellowstone and  dedicated the famous Arch in Gardiner, Montana.

The actor sounded just like we think Roosevelt must have sounded when he said, “That was 1903. April 4th, 1903. And I had just emerged from a two week holiday camping beneath the canvas.”

Several thousand people gathered under the Roosevelt Arch August 25, 2016, to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial. The event featured Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, who painted a dark picture of the Service’s present, and future.

He explained in the news conference, “We’re facing a twelve billion dollar backlog: the organization itself has gotten smaller as a result of chronic underfunding.”

Jarvis compared the National Park Service’s Centennial situation, to its financial status during the 50th anniversary.

He said, “The National Park Service in the post war era, very little political support, and many of the parks had been closed.”

Jarvis pointed to a mid-century public/private campaign, that helped save the National Parks.

He recalled, “Mission 66 was see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet.”

So, Jarvis said the Park Service has started a new campaign: Find Your Park, to engage new audiences, especially millennials, and he is loosening funding regulations, to bring in more money.

Jarvis explained, “As we went into the Centennial, we sought out corporate and private philanthropy.”

That brought questions of concern from members of the press.  Are our parks good names being sold to the highest bidder?

Jarvis defended, “And we didn’t offer, nor would we accept the renaming of facilities or logos, or billboards, or any of that. You got to trust us that we’re not doing that.”

Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk added, “Projects are not done because a donor want’s something done. Projects are done because it’s our priority and then we seek funding to get that project done.”

Then President Roosevelt, aka actor Joe Weigand, chimed in, “If those same efforts were attempted to go through the appropriations process in Congress, I don’t believe that the opportunity to implement good programs would be as efficiently done.”

Funding is just one of the big challenges that face the National Park Service in its second century.

Record crowds, including some international visitors, challenge Park roads, toilets, delicate thermal features, and even the animals.

Jarvis said, “We’re experiencing folks who are not accustomed to being in wild places and following the rules.”

Then, there’s climate change. The National Parks and adjacent forests in Wyoming are on fire right now.

Jarvis remarked, “Fires are burning as much as a month longer in fire season. They’re burning hotter.”

And, the snow and ice is melting.

Jarvis said glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting, “And our scientists predict in 20 or 25 years there will be no glaciers in Glacier National Park.”

If the future seems bleak for America’s National Parks, we might look back to the history of the first National Park: Yellowstone.

Center of the West historian Jeremy Johnston in Cody, says there was no funding at the beginning…none.

He explained, “There’s accounts of market hunters that killed 2000 animals in just one season in that area.”

And the delicate thermal features?

Johnston said, “The early visitors would carve their names into the geothermal formations. They would take their trash and throw it in Old Faithful Geyser just to see it shoot up into the air.”

So, Yellowstone, and the National Park Service have survived unbelievable challenges. Maybe they will again.