Congress needs to provide better funding for the nation's park system and change the current concessions policy at the parks, which is a "complete disaster," says a Lawrence attorney who recently retired from a national parks watchdog organization.
Also, Kansas' two U.S. senators should support a national prairie park or a prairie monument in Kansas, says Charles Stough, who served for 12 years as one of 33 trustees of the National Parks and Conservation Assn.
Stough, 77, who served in the Kansas Legislature during the 1940s and 1950s, recently retired from the NPCA, a private, non-profit foundation started shortly after the National Parks Act was enacted in 1916.
The organization focuses only on the parks and their mission of acquiring natural areas to be preserved unimpaired for future generations, Stough said.
Stough said that during the past 12 years he has seen public interest and awareness grow strongly toward care of the national parks. Membership in the NCPA grew from 30,000 in 1979 to nearly 300,000 today, he said.
"WE ARE striving more than ever to create a public awareness and education as the prime focus of the organization," he said.
He said the National Parks Service is inadequately funded and is trying to perform its daily chores in the 300 natonal parks and national monuments with the same budget it had 10 to 12 years ago.
He said much of the funding problem would be solved if the National Parks Service were removed from the bureacracy of the Interior Department and had its own separate budget.
Stough also said Congress needs to put a tighter rein on companies that have concessions in the national parks.
"The concession policy of the National Park Service is nothing but a complete disaster," he said.
Inducements to get concessionaires to locate in the parks during the early years have given vendors too much clout and too much profit-making ability, he said. Concessionaires were given long-term franchises with almost no competition for renewal because they were given perpetual rights to renew those contracts, Stough said.
"THERE ARE buyout formulas for concession-built structures that virtually compelled the federal government to pay an annual increased amount to the concessionaire because of improvements made," Stough said.
Concessionaires would demand an exorbitant amount if they transferred their contracts to another firm. He said a proposal to tranfer concessions in Yosemite National Park to a Japanese company was blocked by the secretary of the Interior.
Stough said the NCPA has proposed a comprehensive reform measure, which has been introduced as a bill by U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., and 20 co-sponsors. It would set up a competitive bid system for concessions and protect park resources from overdevelopment, Stough said.
"Most important of all, it would eliminate the federal give-away to wealthy concessionaires," he said.
THE LAW would also increase fees for the parks, which would help solve some of the parks service's funding problems, he said.
Stough said he was still hopeful that a national park would be created in Kansas to preserve the state's remaining prairie.
"I'm saddened by the fact that it seems to be stopped at this point," he said. "For 35 years, those I've been associated with have been working for not just a monument but a prairie national park in Kansas. Even since the 1940s, countless studies made by the National Park Service, all pointed to Kansas as having the finest sample of tall grass prairie remaining on the continent."
He said at one time the prairie extended from the eastern wooded areas to the Rocky Mountains, with prairie grasses standing eight feet tall in some lush areas. However, the prairie is disappearing, except for a few areas, including a few spots in Douglas County, he said.
"HOPE SPRINGS eternal and I hope there's enough spring to eventually bring our two U.S. senators around to a favorable point of view in this matter," he said.
Stough said Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., has indicated to him that if the Kansas Livestock Assn. and the Kansas Farm Bureau don't respond to her suggestion of private foundation management and ownership that she will support the NCPA position of creating a Flint Hills National Monument on the 11,000-acre Z-Bar Ranch near Strong City in Chase County.
The NCPA supports a national prairie park or monument because of its "quiet beauty and unique qualities and the accessibility by virtue of our central location in the country," Stough said. The park would not only bring many people to Kansas, but would also give those traveling through Kansas a place to stop and visit.