When conservatives bellow that they want to slash the number of federal employees, they usually don't have our ever-helpful park rangers in mind for the slashing.
People love rangers. Mainly because they're... well, helpful -- teaching us about the ancient cliff dwellers at Mesa Verde, guiding us along the Appalachian Trail or bringing Lincoln's Gettsyburg Address to life.
Yet while politicians of all stripes praise park rangers and give tribute to the majesty of our national parks, forests, seashores, monuments and wilderness areas, they're deadbeats when it comes to paying the bill to keep these treasures in place and in good repair. Washington routinely shortchanges these assets, resulting today in an inadequate number of rangers to meet the public's need and a growing backlog of maintenance just to keep our parks from falling apart.
George W, who campaigned as a Teddy Roosevelt-style park-lover, promised that he would eliminate that backlog within five years. But, instead, it's grown by about $3 billion since he's been in office. And while he claims to have boosted the budget of the Park Service, it's nowhere near enough to make up for the increased number of park visitors or the added burden of homeland security requirements he put on the service. The operating budget is estimated to be $600 million a year short of what's needed.
So our national treasures, which the overwhelming majority of Americans love, are crumbling -- unsafe trails, broken facilities, closed off areas, shortages of guides and interpreters, shorter hours and locked visitors centers.
Where'd the money go? To tax giveaways for the richest people in America, to Halliburton's fraud-ridden contracts in Iraq, to George's "Star Wars" fantasies, to his unlimited and unbudgeted war mongering and to multibillions-of-dollars in corporate welfare. Take just 10 percent of that money back, and our parks would again gleam like the gems they are.
Publication date: 07/15/04