Making national parks relevant today and tomorrow Glacier National Park. At left is the Memorial Bridge in Washington (Thinkstock)
Making national parks relevant today and tomorrow
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After nearly 100 years, the National Park Service holds some of the country's most beautiful and historic places. It also is suffering. There is a backlog of unfunded maintenance. The cost to do that work is estimated at $11 billion.

Visitors are aging and mostly white. Younger visitors are needed.

In 2016, the park service will mark its 100th birthday. It is launching a campaign. The goal is to court a younger, more diverse visitor base. First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush will co-chair the campaign.

Americans will be called upon to "Find Your Park."

Sustaining the parks and keeping them relevant to visitors is a challenge. Many facilities date back 50 years or more. Some are in danger of failing. One is a 70-year-old water pipeline at the Grand Canyon. The pipeline breaks regularly. That could cut off the water supply to the site, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said. Lodging at Glacier National Park needs a major overhaul. The nearly 100-year-old Memorial Bridge in Washington needs at least $150 million in repairs. That's more than the agency's entire annual construction budget.

Behind the scenes, officials are seeking to expand fundraising. The National Park Foundation has been created. The officials also want to bolster congressional support to improve the parks.

This is the third major campaign in the national parks' history. In 1915, the park conditions were poor. That led to the creation of the National Park Service. In the 1950s, there were calls to close neglected parks. That inspired a campaign to rebuild infrastructure. Returning World War II veterans and their families were invited to visit parks. The memorable slogan "See the USA in your Chevrolet" was created.

"They came in droves," Jarvis said. "They are our base today... The question that we're facing is who's going to be the next generation of park supporters."

The national parks counted 292 million visitors in 2014. But there is a problem. Those visitors tend to be older and whiter than the U.S. population overall. Greater diversity is needed.

"If we were a business and that was our clientele, then over the long term, we would probably be out of business," Jarvis said.

In studying public perceptions, park officials found many people think national parks are only in the West. That's where Yellowstone and Yosemite are located. Urban sites, in cities, also contain national parks. They include the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Little Rock, Ark., Central High School and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Over the next year, an advertising campaign will show how people connect with their favorite parks. Corporate sponsors are supporting the effort. They include American Express, REI and Humana.

To broaden access to the parks, all fourth grade students and their families will get free admission to national parks during the next school year.

Celebrities are getting involved, too. The science guy Bill Nye, actresses Bella Thorne and Roselyn Sanchez, E! News anchor Terrence J. and singer Mary Lambert are urging millennials to put down their smartphones for time in parks.

President Barack Obama requested an increase of $432 million to support the National Park Service in his 2016 budget proposal. It's a request that would lift the agency's budget to $3 billion annually. The money would address deferred maintenance and other needs. It likely will face resistance in Congress.

During a recent hearing, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California said Congress must ensure the parks are well maintained. However, he said the park service is plagued by "a clash of visions." The issue is between open access and new policies limiting access or amenities in some areas. He said the agency should be cautious about naming new parks. He wants the current parks to be fixed first.

In addition, a campaign is under way. Private funds are being sought. The goal is to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild historic infrastructure. Campaign planners hope public support will also help build congressional support.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell put the issue bluntly.

"If we don't reach out and become relevant to a broader population, we won't have the support the parks need to do their jobs in the future."

Critical thinking challenge: Why have supporters focused their efforts on seeking funds from private and corporate sponsors, rather than Congress?

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COMMENTS (14)
  • John0724-YYCA
    4/20/2015 - 08:43 p.m.

    It is a very good thing that other people are helping for this national park that holds many beautiful things that are dying and even President Barack Obama paid the money to help the national park which is something that is very appreciative. This is a very common thing because right now mostly everything is dying and mostly it is because of us.

  • HokettK-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 06:48 p.m.

    Supporters are focusing their efforts on seeking funds from private and corporate sponsors, rather then Congress because they know they can get more money that way instead of through Congress. Because Congress may not support giving the parks money. Also, Congress has rules of how to use the money. With private supporters the money can be used the way the park needs to use it. Private supporters will support the parks better then Congress.

  • CirilloP-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 07:05 p.m.

    supporters focused their efforts on seeking funds from private and corporate sponsors, rather than Congress. They focused more on sponsors more that congress is because they are better. And also congress are not as good. Sponsors are great and better that congress. That is why people focused more on corporate sponsors.

  • CooperT-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 07:08 p.m.

    Private and Corporate sponsors have more money than Congress. Congress might not approve of funding for National Parks. We need money for other things like repairing bridges. We are hoping to get money from private and corporate sponsors rebuild National Parks. We need millions and billions for funding for the parks!

  • ShecklenZ-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 09:02 p.m.

    in the article, the author states that "the money" from congress "would address deferred maintenance and other needs. It likely will face resistance in congress."

    1. And most likely if it is from private and corporate sponsors It will probably raise more attention and awareness.

    2. It says in the article That " It likely will face resistant in congress.

    3. It says that "the nearly 100-year-old Memorial Bridge in Washington needs at least $150 million in repairs" that is maintenance.

  • StoneM-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 09:22 p.m.

    Th reasons why the park mangers want to focused their efforts on seeking funds from private and corporate sponsors, rather than Congress is because of these three reasons.First, is they got all the money the Congress will give them they can't keep asking or else the Congress would be broke. Next, is they ask for money from the private Congress they will make more money.Last, is the private are wanting to give to the parks so that they can keep going on. That is why the park mangers want to get money from the private Congress instead of the open Congress.

  • LiCausiM-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 09:24 p.m.

    They did that rather than congress because they are most likely to face resistance in congress. A reason is because the congress need to make sure that the parks are well maintained. Something else is that I think that with private corporate sponsors will get money faster. Another reason is to help build congressional support. These are the reasons that I think they have supporters focus their efforts on private, and corporate sponsors, instead of Congress.

  • HocogJ-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 09:47 p.m.

    They look for private and corporate sponsors rather than congress because it is faster to raise money. Also because it takes too long for congress to approve because they have to take a vote. Another thing is that the private businesses and corporate companies donate money so they don't have to pay so much of their taxes. It's also faster to collect donations rather than to wait for congress. Something else is that it probably takes long for congress to approve the funds due to other important matters.

  • DorrN-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 10:53 p.m.

    Supporters focused their efforts on seeking funds from private and corporate sponsors, rather than congress because private and corporate must ensure the parks are well maintained because they need it to be like that and congress does not do that because they do not really want to do that.

  • ManiegoC-Sua
    5/11/2015 - 11:21 p.m.

    Supporters focused their efforts on seeking funds from private and corporate sponsors, rather than Congress because Congress may not agree to rebuild what is happening with the National Park Service. Why I think that because Congress is funding things that are more important. Also they are not doing funds for anything else just things that are important. Also the problem isn't seen as a #1 issue in the Congress' eyes. Lastly, improving the infrastructure of the National Park Service is important but not as important as the other economical issues going on.

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