National Parks Conservation Association rallies public support for park funding

The National Parks Conservation Association has generated 105,000 signaturesThe National Parks Conservation Association wants the U.S. government to stop cutting critical funding to national parks – and apparently many Americans agree. Earlier this week, the NPCA announced that it had garnered more than 105,000 signatures from its supporters asking Congress to put an end to budget cuts to the National Park Service, asserting that those cuts that are endangering the future of parks.

Back in May, the NPCA kicked off its National Parks Protection Project which was designed to educate members of Congress and the American public about the importance of proper funding for the national parks. When that initiative got underway, an online petition was also included, with the goal of attaining 100,000 signatures asking the government to stop slashing funding to the parks. After all, the NPCA points out, the Park Service’s budget is just one-thirteenth of one percent of the total federal budget.

For that relatively small amount of money, the national parks generate quite a return on the investment. Not only does that funding go toward protecting and promoting the most amazing park system in the world, it also has an important impact on the communities that surround those parks. It is estimated that the national parks are responsible for contributing more than $13 billion to local economies each year while also creating nearly 270,000 private-sector jobs.

Now, just over three months after the petition went online, the NPCA has not only met its goal, but exceeded it. In fact, the organization’s president, Tom Kiernan, has said “This is by far the most successful petition drive we’ve ever had – in nearly 100 years of operations – and it’s time for Congress to take notice of how many people have joined this effort.”

I tend to agree with Kiernan. The national parks are a fantastic resource and one that we need to protect for future generations to enjoy as well. Unfortunately, budget cuts have made those efforts incredibly challenging. But considering what the parks give back to us, both tangibly and intangibly, perhaps it is time to stop looking solely at the bottom line.

New study finds national parks at risk

The National Parks Conservation Association released a report on the state of America's national parksThe National Parks Conservation Association released a comprehensive report yesterday that paints a grim picture for the future of the national parks in the U.S. The report, which is entitled “The State of America’s National Parks,” examines a number of economic and environmental threats to the parks and is the result of more than a decade of research. The non-profit NPCA also calls on the Obama Administration to address those threats while developing a comprehensive plan for the future, ahead of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The report, which can be read in it’s entirety here, identifies a number of challenges to the future of America’s national parks. The threats, which are both old and new, include pollution, invasive species, climate change, and continued funding shortfalls, amongst others. The NPCA goes on to say that many of these threats are already having a real and dramatic impact on the parks. During their research they found that 63% of the parks surveyed had issues with air quality to some degree or another. Others were found to have poor water quality as well, while a staggering 95% of the parks assessed had lost at least one plant or animal species over the course of the past ten years.

According to the NPCA, the largest threats to the parks, and their natural resources, stem from two sources – human activity and climate change. In the case of the former, the development of lands surrounding the park is changing the natural habitats of wildlife and contaminating both the air and the water. It may be the latter that has the most lasting effect however, as the report cites threats to everything from the redwoods of Sequoia National Park in California to the coastlines of Katmai in Alaska, as being dramatically impacted by the changing climate.It isn’t all doom and gloom however, as the report also spotlights success stories in several parks as well. For instance, a comprehensive effort to remove non-native species, including horses, rats, and pigs, from the Channel Islands has helped the native fox species there to bounce back in numbers. Similarly, a “vessel management plan” in Glacier Bay National Park has been very successful in protecting the marine mammals that live there as well. The NPCA says that these examples show that when “National Park Service staff have sufficient financial support, up-to-date scientific information, and adequate training,” they can do positive things.

In order to protect these vital natural resources, the NPCA is calling upon the Obama Administration to create a plan for the long term management of the parks. That plan, they contend, must address the threats to the parks and create a system for monitoring the quality of the air and water found within their boundaries. The organization is also asking the President to issue an Executive Order that will commit federal resources to preparing the parks for their second one hundred years and beyond. The NPCA believes that can only be achieved by fully funding the Park Service to equip them with all the tools necessary to address these threats properly.

Considering the attendance numbers over the past few years, it is evident that Americans recognize and appreciate the value of their national parks. Hopefully this report will send the wake-up call that is necessary to ensure that those amazing natural spaces will be around in another hundred years so that new generations of Americans can enjoy them too.

[Photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association]

National Parks Gem: San Antonio Missions

The San Antiono Missions National Park is a cultural and historical treasure.The U.S. national parks system certainly isn’t lacking in fantastic destinations for summer escapes. From Yellowstone to Yosemite, there are enough natural and historical wonders to delight and enthrall travelers of all ages. But there are also a number of lesser known parks that are worth visiting as well, offering up their own unique experiences and lasting memories.

Take for example the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Located deep in the heart of Texas, the park is home to four Spanish missions, the first of which was built in 1690, more than 85 years before the United States started down the path to independence. Those missions were originally built to bring Christianity to the local population and prepare them to eventually become Spanish citizens, and they were used for decades in a variety of capacities, even after Spain and Mexico abandoned their claims on the territory.

Located within the park are Mission Espada, Mission Concepción, Mission San José, and Mission San Juan Capistrano. Each has been preserved to one degree or another, and each offers an intriguing look at a chapter in early-American history that is very different from the Colonial Era settings found in the New England states. Visitors can stroll the grounds, discovering what life in, and around the missions, was like in the 18th and 19th centuries, while admiring the historical architecture as well.The missions have played a vital role in the San Antonio community for centuries delivering a religious and cultural impact on the residents that continues even to this day. But they have also proven to be an economic boon as well, as a recent study by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has discovered. According to the study, for every federal dollar invested in the park, $20 in local economic activity is generated. In 2009 for example, $8.2 million in funds from the Park Service, and its local partners, was invested in the park, which created $98.8 million in revenue for the surrounding community and directly impacted more than a 1100 local jobs.

Despite this indelible legacy however, the Missions are facing some challenges to their future. In that same report, the NPCA recommended seven initiatives that if enacted, would help preserve the missions for future generations, while also increasing the economic impact of the park even further. Those recommendations included building a new park headquarters to help enrich the visitors experience, linking the park to the nearby San Antonio river via trails to further connect it to the community, and developing new cultural demonstrations to further immerse visitors in the historical setting. You can read the full NPCA report and recommendations by clicking here.

Like so many of the national parks in the United State, San Antonio Missions is a unique experience unlike any other. It truly is one park that needs to be visited to be fully appreciated. It is a great historical destination that is often overlooked, but when you’re passing through central Texas, take a little time away from the Riverwalk to enjoy a walk of a different kind. One that takes you back through history in a fascinating and unique setting.

[Photo Credit: Liveon001 via WikiMedia]

Nature Valley kicks off 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign

Nature Valley begins the 2011 Preserve the Parks CampaignAs we’ve mentioned on several occasions recently, Saturday kicked off National Parks Week here in the U.S. To help celebrate, Nature Valley, in conjunction with the National Parks Conservation Association, launched their 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign in the beautiful desert near Joshua Tree in California.

Nature Valley started the campaign last year after their customers expressed how much they loved the national parks. In 2010, the Preserve the Parks program raised $400,000 for the NPCA, with those funds going directly to protect national parks from a variety of threats. The 2011 edition of Preserve the Parks hopes to raise even more money, while also taking a more direct, active role in the preservation of these fantastic natural spaces.

This year, Preserve the Parks has a charismatic and charming spokesman to help spread the word about the campaign. Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer on the television show Lost, is an avid outdoorsman who also happens to love America’s national parks. He was on hand for the kickoff event this past weekend to not only help get the festivities underway, but to also get a little dirty too. Holloway joined a host of volunteers who went to work building trails and helping to protect the habitat of desert tortoises that inhabit the region around Joshua Tree.I had the opportunity to chat with Josh on several occasions throughout the day and came away quite impressed. This isn’t the case of a celebrity spokesperson slapping their name on a project and paying lip service to it. Josh truly does have a love for the outdoors and was eager to lend a hand in the actual physical work of the day. For most of the morning he had a shovel, rake, or other tool in his hand, and was doing his part alongside the rest of the volunteers who were there to take part in a restoration project.

Nature Valley beings 2011 Preserve the Parks campaignDespite the warm weather (temperatures approached 95 degrees Fahrenheit) the Nature Valley event drew an impressive turnout from volunteers. After a brief orientation about the area, including instructions on how to avoid stepping on a tortoise den, we were off on a mile long hike to the various work sites. Once there, we broke into teams that took on a variety of projects that included clearing trails of plants and other debris to more clearly define where to walk, as well as restructuring part of the landscape to allow water to flow naturally, without causing undue erosion. These simple efforts can go a long way toward protecting the area and ensuring that those who visit it can pass through without endangering the creatures that live there.

Nature Valley has a number of other similar events planned for the summer ahead, when the program will really kick into high gear. Those events will take place in Yellowstone, Acadia, Biscayne and several other national parks. Details on those events has yet to be completed, but you can watch the Preserve the Parks website for details on when they’ll be occurring and how you might be able to join in.

National Parks Week is a time that is dedicated to celebrating the spectacular natural beauty that exists inside America’s wilderness wonderlands. It is also a great time to acknowledge some of the threats that face the parks, such as environmental concerns, land management issues, lack of funding, and more. Organizations like Nature Valley and the NPCA recognize the importance of the parks on American culture and are working hard to protect them for future generations to enjoy as well. Programs such as the Preserve the Parks campaign are a perfect model of how businesses, non-profits, and grassroots activists can all work together to improve and protect the parks.

Nature Valley launches Preserve the Parks campaign
This trip was payed for by Nature Valley, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

Proposed casino near Gettysburg National Park denied license

A propsed casino near Gettysburg National Park was voted down this weekThe National Parks Conservation Association is applauding the decision of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to deny a license to a proposed casino near Gettysburg National Park. The Board felt that the gambling establishment, which would have opened less than a half-mile from the park, would be at odds with the solemn historical legacy and family friendly environment at Gettysburg.

The proposed casino sparked a great deal of debate in the communities surrounding the park. It was believed that it would bring a much needed boost to the local economy and provide new jobs, but opponents called the plan an insult to soldiers that fought and died there. The Mason Dixon Resort & Casino was to include 600 slot machines and 50 table games in its bid to lure visitors through its doors.

The decision comes as the park kicks off a series of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg is seen as the definitive turning point in that war, when Union forces turned back an invasion of Confederate troops, led by Robert E. Lee. It is believed that both sides combined for more than 51,000 casualties over the three day battle, which ultimately led to the North claiming victory over the South. President Lincoln traveled to the site some months later to dedicate a national cemetery there. His Gettysburg Address would become one of the most famous speeches in history.

So what do you think? Would a casino so close to Gettysburg diminish the historical events that happened there? Would it be an insult to those soldiers or is the need for economic development more important than that legacy? Personally, I’m glad that the casino was voted down. In my opinion, there are plenty of places to build a casino further away from a place that should be seen as hallowed ground.

[Photo credit: National Park Service]