SNOWBIRD In what is only their third such meeting in 20 years, National Park Service superintendents from across the nation met Wednesday at Snowbird to develop a vision for the country's parks for the next 100 years.
"The challenge facing the National Park Service is to keep pace with the modern needs of Americans while conserving what needs to remain timeless," Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne told the group.
He encouraged the superintendents to, on occasion, visit their national parks as tourists, to see things with fresh eyes. And, he said, be open to innovative, creative and practical ideas.
"Would we allow the construction of a 500-foot-tall tower in a national park today? Would we issue a permit for someone to significantly change the face of a mountain?" Kempthorne asked. "I have just described the Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore."
As with all things, funding is a primary concern. Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar said the national parks just received their largest budget increase in history, with $25 million in new funding from Congress and another $26 million from partners. This appropriation ends a 10-year decline in funding,
With this new funding, the parks were able to increase seasonal employees by 3,000 across the country. In Utah, that equates to 93 new employees in 10 national parks. Many parks across the nation saw increases to their base budgets, including $1.144 million in Utah. And, to date, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Zion National Park have received funding for their programs in stewardship and education, respectively.
The NPS will continue to seek more funding from Congress for Centennial projects that will help prepare the national parks for their 100th year of service. And as far as Kempthorne is concerned, the national parks are a logical place for Congress to spend the taxpayers' money.
He noted a number of examples where national monuments are represented Independence Hall on the $100 bill, the Lincoln Memorial on the $5 bill, and a number of others on coins.
"Clearly, money is minted and printed to fund national parks," he said.
With additional staff and money, national park superintendents will be moving forward on three primary goals under Bomar's guidance. They are to re-engage the American people with their parks, increase the capacity of the park system and prepare the next generation of park leaders.
"We welcomed 275 million visitors last year, an increase of 3 million people more than pro football, baseball, basketball, NASCAR and Disney combined," said Bomar. "But now is not the time to rest on our laurels ... we are still significantly down from our peak visitation in the mid-1990s."
The NPS Superintendents' Summit continues Thursday with meetings throughout the day. Many of them have expressed a desire to hold more frequent national meetings like this one, but Bomar said typically, they hold regional meetings instead.
A number of other meetings were canceled led to make this summit possible, and the agenda was kept to a two-day maximum to be the most cost-effective."You do it when you need to," she said. "Ultimately, I am responsible to the public for their money."