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Funding Woes Mount at National Parks as Summer Vacation Season Begins

Austin Jenkins
05/27/2004

Millions of people flock to the Northwest's National Parks each year in search of natural wonders. But this summer they may also encounter pot-holed roads, dirty bathrooms, closed trails and fewer rangers. The problem: a funding shortfall. As Austin Jenkins reports, one of the Northwest's most popular outdoor destinations is at the center of a conflict over park service funding.

THE WOOD-PANELED VISITOR CENTER AT OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK. RANGERS, MAPS SPREAD BEFORE THEM, ARE HELPING TOURISTS.

Visitor: "If I could ask you another question, the Hurricane Ridge, is it open? Hurricane Ridge is open all the way to the top."

FROM THE PEAK OF MT. OLYMPUS TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN THIS PARK HAS IT ALL: MOUNTAINS, RAINFORESTS, OLD-GROWTH TREES AND PRISTINE COASTLINE. NOT TO MENTION ELK, BEAR, SPOTTED-OWLS AND SALMON.

Nations: "You're so lucky to have this park."

JIM NATIONS HAS AUTHORED A NEW REPORT THAT CONTENDS NOT ALL IS WELL AT OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK.

Nations: "You've got lack of funding, lack of staff that the National Park Service requires to keep this park alive, keep those resources flourishing so that the park a hundred years from now is still here, unimpaired for future generations."

NATIONS IS A VICE PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION A NEARLY CENTURY OLD WATCHDOG ORGANIZATION. STANDING WITH REPORTERS AT THE OLYMPIC PARK ENTRANCE, HE ASSERTED THE PARK NEEDS 16 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR TO OPERATE, BUT IT'S BUDGET IS ONLY 10 MILLION DOLLARS. BESIDE HIM THE PARK'S SUPERINTENDENT BILL LAITNER CONFIRMS TIMES ARE TOUGH - HE'S DOWN TWENTY FULL-TIME POSITIONS AND CAN'T AFFORD TO HIRE ENOUGH PART-TIME WORKERS FOR THE SUMMER RUSH.

Laitner: "In 2001 we had about a hundred and thirty summer seasonals - people who staff visitor centers, mow grass, clean restrooms - this year we'll have about twenty-five. So we've gone from a hundred and thirty to twenty-five from '01 to '04."

OLYMPIC PARK ISN'T THE ONLY NATIONAL PARK IN THE NORTHWEST THAT'S STRUGGLING ACCORDING TO THE PARKS ASSOCITION. AT MT. RAINIER ROOFS, ROADS AND TRAILS ARE IN DISREPAIR. AT CRATER LAKE WATER QUALITY MONITORING HAS BEEN SCALED BACK. CONGRESSMAN NORM DICKS REPRESENTS WASHINGTON'S OLYMPIC PENINSULA AND IS THE RANKING DEMOCRAT ON THE COMMITTEE THAT OVERSEES THE PARK SERVICE BUDGET. HE BLAMES PRESIDENT BUSH WHO PLEDGED FOUR YEARS AGO TO RE-INVEST IN NATIONAL PARKS.

Rep. Dicks: "It's another unkept promise of the Bush administration frankly. And it's because they gave all the money away in tax cuts and didn't take care of these priorities. And now they say well there's no money to do it, we're sorry we can't do it."

PARK SERVICE SPOKESWOMAN HOLLY BUNDOCK DEFENDS THE PRESIDENT'S RECORD.

Bundock: "We're in a war-time budget and are trying to help out like every other agency is."

BUNDOCK ACKNOWLEDGES BUDGETS HAVE BEEN STRAINED RECENTLY, BUT SAYS THE PRESIDENT IS KEEPING HIS COMMITMENT TO TACKLING THE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN BACKLOGGED MAINTENANCE AT THE NATION'S NEARLY 400 PARKS. SHE CLAIMS PEOPLE THIS SUMMER PROBABLY WON'T NOTICE THE EMPLOYEE CUTBACKS AND MAINTENANCE YET TO BE DONE.

Bundock: "Visitors are going to have good experiences in the park because we are professionals and we are going to provide good service for them. And they're going to be safe in parks because we have great rangers that are going to take care of them."

BUSINESS IS ALREADY PICKING UP AT OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK IN ANTICIPATION OF THE MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND. THE SUPERINTENDENT SAYS CAMPGROUND BATHROOMS WON'T BE CLEANED EVERDAY AND RANGERS WILL BE SPREAD THIN. CONGRESS IS CURRENTLY WORKING ON NEXT YEAR'S PARK SERVICE BUDGET. I'M AUSTIN JENKINS AT THE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK NEAR PORT ANGELES, WASHINGTON.

07.17.18

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