America’s Historical and Natural Legacy Study Act: Congress Continues to Feed Overstuffed Park Service

From Peyton Knight:

On Wednesday, members of the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on the “America’s Historical and Natural Legacy Study Act” (H.R. 3998), a massive bill that would direct the National Park Service to “study” the prospects of adding multiple new properties to its already expansive fiefdom.

Included in the bill is the “Mississippi River Study Act” which would set the wheels in motion for creating a new national trail along the entire Mississippi River.

Last year, I had the honor of testifying before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands on behalf of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Below is an excerpt:

The Mississippi River Trail Study Act… carries significant, negative property rights implications for landowners in the path and vicinity of the proposed trail – whether the trail be the river itself or an adjacent, land-based trail. Its timing is bad because it would drain resources from an agency that is already stretched well beyond its capacity. It also comes at a time when Americans across the nation are demanding that government use of eminent domain power be strictly curtailed. A national scenic or historic trail the entire length of the Mississippi River would bring a new threat of eminent domain to property owners in as many as ten states.

The National Park Service (NPS) is currently running a maintenance backlog estimated to be anywhere from five to ten billion dollars. This is not a recent development. Ten years ago, the U.S. Department of the Interior estimated this backlog to be $4.5 billion…

The failure of the Park Service to adequately protect many of our public lands and historic treasures is well documented by the National Parks Conservation Association. Yosemite National Park in California needs a new sewer system and electrical upgrades, and lacks necessary trail and campground maintenance. Yellowstone National Park has decrepit buildings and over 150 miles of roads that need repair. Travel to backcountry cabins in Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park is impossible because of neglected bridges and trails. The foundation of the visitor center at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii is crumbling and literally sinking into the ground. Ancient stone structures are collapsing at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Mexico. Many historic structures at Gettysburg National Military Park need rehabilitation.

Increased funding is not the answer to what ails the Park Service. According to Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget Lynn Scarlett, “Since 2000, the National Park Service’s budget has grown by 20 percent, one of the greatest increases for a non-defense agency. The Park Service’s $1.8 billion operating budget for 2005 represents spending of more funds per employee, per acre, and per visitor than ever before.”

…[N]ational scenic and historic trails pose numerous, serious threats to property owners unfortunate enough to lie in their path. These threats include land acquisition, restrictive easements or increased land use controls and restrictive zoning measures.

But perhaps chief among the threats posed by such trails to landowners is the condemnation of private property through eminent domain. As professional engineer and Property Rights Foundation of America president Carol LaGrasse has noted: “It is impossible to build a trail of any significant length without using some measure of coercion on property owners – either eminent domain or the threat of it. Because a trail is like a highway, a railroad or a utility line, it has to be built in one continuous length.”

In addition to laying the groundwork for a national trail along the Mississippi River, H.R. 3998 would direct the Park Service to consider expanding two existing national historic sites, one existing national trail, and a huge national recreation area dubbed “the Rim of the Valley Corridor” in California. Also included in the bill are four, yet-to-be-classified, new Park Service units and another national trail that would wind through Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

That’s quite of bit of additional programming for an agency that continues to suffer a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog crisis. Just three months ago, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Bill Wade, Chair of the Executive Council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, reported: “The National Park Service estimates its backlog at $8 billion.”

It is mind-boggling why Congress would continue to feed the Park Service when the agency has already bitten off way more than it can chew. It just doesn’t get any more irresponsible than that.

To contact author Peyton Knight directly, write him at [email protected]


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