Saturday, Aug. 25, 2007 | 7:31 a.m.
The Interior Department on Thursday unveiled its list of proposed projects to spruce up the national parks in preparation for the National Park Service's 100th anniversary in 2016.
In a speech at California's Yosemite National Park, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said private groups have pledged nearly $216 million for 201 projects at national parks, historic sites and monuments. All that is needed now, he said, is $154 million in matching funds from Congress so the projects can move forward.
The list is impressive, including renovations and repairs to existing facilities, restoration of habitat and species populations, construction of new trails and buildings, and new education and outreach programs.
The private partners include many regional "friends of" nonprofit organizations for the various parks, national nonprofits such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and at least a couple of corporations. On its face, it all seems very innovative - except that this public-private partnership plan was crafted by the Bush administration, whose policies and budget cuts are among the main reasons the national parks are crumbling under an $800 million annual budget shortfall. So, pardon us for being skeptical.
Still, even if the restoration efforts, education programs and facilities upgrades pass muster, who is setting the agenda for what needs to be done in America's parks the scientists and park managers responsible for protecting these national gems, or private interests and industries that have other gains in mind?
And what about giving credit? It is hard to believe that a foundation or a nonprofit park auxiliary organization or a corporation is going to donate money without expecting some form of permanent recognition in return.
Certainly, it is generous of Idaho Power, for example, to be a partner in a $39,627 proposal to build an interpretive trail and amphitheater at Idaho's Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. But will the trail carry signs saying it was made possible by Idaho Power?
We have said it before, and we will say it again: America's national parks are not appropriate places for advertising. And we hope that come 2016, our nation's parks have not been turned into an unnatural system of billboards in natural settings.