Obscured by Tuesday’s massive, annual pass giveaway to American fourth graders and their families, the Obama administration also sent a bill, the National Park Service Centennial Act, to Congress that could mean a $1.5 billion infusion to the perennially resource-strapped park service on the verge of its 100th anniversary.
While we fervently believe the park service is an integral part of any effort to preserve public lands and address challenges such as climate change, we have mixed feelings about the proposal.
Frankly, it doesn’t go far enough.
This incomplete effort adds to the agency’s trend of creating a huge paper trail of discussion about diversity and inclusion that lacks concrete proposals or guarantee of action.
That could change if Interior Secretary Sally Jewel immediately reveals a sweeping diversity and inclusion program or hiring initiative at the top of her list of projects to be funded by the proposed National Park Service Second Century Fund. Such a fund would be established from private donations matched on a 1:1 by the federal government, up to $100 million per year for three years, thus worth as much as $600 million.
Otherwise the bill falls flat with regard to racial minorities, with whom the National Park Service has a dismal record, in terms of both attendance and employment.
In fact, the bill proposes financial measures that could serve as further disincentives for people of color who already regard the park system with apathy. Those measures include a proposed increase in lodging and camping fees of up to 5 percent. It also asks for a hike in the price of lifetime senior passes from $10 to the equivalent of an annual interagency pass (aka, the America the Beautiful pass), currently $80.
The bill generally has been praised for trying to address the NPS’s crumbling infrastructure. It calls for an additional, three-year annual appropriation of $300 million (net $900 million) to address construction and maintenance. The park service also conceivably could benefit from a smaller, proposed $300 million (total) Public Lands Centennial Fund, accumulated over three years and shared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Those would barely scratch the surface of what the park service needs. Last year, it deferred $11.5 million in maintenance of basic infrastructure, facilities, trails and campgrounds. It’s like tossing a penny into a fountain.
Not to mention that a Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to the pass the bill fully intact.
It’s disappointing that the lot of the existing outdoors infrastructure stood and applauded this legislation. It once again demonstrates its collective color blindness and inability to see that a crisis of a nonwhite U.S. majority without an affinity for the outdoors is one that will be upon them before they know it.
The civil rights movement was 50 years ago, and where would you say this country is in that regard today? Imagine if everyone in the white-dominated outdoors space changes course and strives fervently for diversity and inclusion starting tomorrow. How far will that effort have progressed when the demographics in the U.S. completely switch over in, say, two to three decades?
That, like the National Park Service Centennial Act, likely will prove too little too late.