Archive for Saturday, January 14, 1995

SATURDAY COLUMN

January 14, 1995

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The status and health of this country's national parks is likely to become a hotly debated topic in the months to come with some suggesting a number of the parks should be closed and others arguing for increased funding or continued expansion of the park system. Obviously, there will have to be compromise.

Recently, the chairman of the House Public Lands subcommittee suggested America's national park system treasures can be saved only by shutting the gates on parks and historical sites that "do not belong in the national park system."

The root of the problem is money. There doesn't appear to be sufficient federal funding to maintain the parks in a first-class condition. Throughout the national park system, there has been a major cutback in personnel, facilities have been neglected, and, in some parks, sizable areas of the acreage have been closed to the public.

Adding to the money problems is the matter of whether those operating concessions at the parks are paying sufficient fees for the privilege of being licensed to operate in the parks. Also, Rep. James Hastings, R-Utah, chairman of the public lands subcommittee, said the National Park Service spends $900 million on visitor services while collecting only $100 million in fees. "Certainly we cannot expect our national parks to pay their own way," Rep. Hastings said, "but we can expect a better return from the parks and that our tax dollars are spent only on the most deserving."

Who is best qualified to determine which parks and historical sites should be closed? And what will be the determining factors -- the number of visitors, historical significance or what?

When one talks about national parks, the general citizenry usually thinks about Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Grand Teton and Yosemite national parks. These, however, represent only a tiny fraction of the National Park Service. And, much to the surprise of many, these well-known parks do not lead the "most visited" list. The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Great Smoky Mountain Park and the Lake Mead National Recreation area top the attendance charts. Grand Canyon is in 10th place; Yosemite is 13th; Yellowstone is 19th; Rocky Mountain occupies the 21st spot; and Grand Teton is the 24th most visited park.

The national parks, national historical sites, national battlefields, national military parks, national memorials, national monuments, national preserves, national seashores, national parkways, national lakeshores, national reserves, national rivers, national wide and scenic rivers, parks (such as the White House), national recreation areas, the national mall and the national scenic trails all fall under the administrative umbrella of the National Park Service.

Again, money is the problem. Should some of the national parks be closed? Should visitation be reduced or restricted at some of the popular parks to hold down costs? Should admission fees be increased substantially? Should vendors be required to pay back a higher percentage of their revenues to the park service? Or are there other ways to make sure there is sufficient funding to keep the parks in first-class condition?

This reporter believes parks such a Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, etc., are the true national jewels in this country and must be preserved and protected. Any cutbacks in funding for these parks would be a national disgrace. The parks need more funding, not less.

Switching to the area of athletics:

It wasn't too long ago that universities within the Southwest Conference were working with Big Eight conference officials, such as KU's Gene Budig, to figure out some way they could be brought into the Big Eight.

Now, for some reason, there are those talking about the possibility of moving the Big Eight office out of Kansas City to some Texas location. What goes on? It would seem the eight schools of the Big Eight should be able to call the shots, since they enjoy an 8-to-4 numerical advantage over the Southwest schools. Why shouldn't the Big Eight people have the clout and leadership to determine where the conference offices should be located? The conference misses the leadership provided by Budig because apparently some of the other Big Eight representatives are willing to roll over and play dead for the four Texas schools. This is a poor way to start off the new conference alignment, and it certainly raises questions about who will be making the important decision on whom to select as commissioner of the new conference.

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