Politics skew park budgets

Imbalance in funding priorities leaves some top sites in a lurch

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 28 2004 1:56 p.m. MDT

But what Bennett said he has seen is "the cheap political maneuver where they say, 'Let's get a park created in my home state or district for which I can get a headline' . . . then they lose interest in it." He adds, "There's not as much political benefit in getting a new visitors center for an existing park as there is in getting a new park."

Bennett said because of such thinking, too many parks were added without additional money into the system — which hurts all parks. Because of that, he said, he has focused on trying to help existing Utah parks — such as fighting for recent new visitors centers at Zion, Bryce Canyon, Hovenweep and Arches, and shuttles at Zion and Bryce — than trying to create new park areas.

Scarlett at the Interior Department discounts the role of politics in how park budgets are developed.

"It is kind of a collaborative process," she said, adding the Park Service tries "to factor in things like what are the visitation trends. If trends are going up, we want to devote more in areas that are having a visitation increase."

She said park needs are also scrutinized. For example, "An area that has been particularly prominent since 9/11 has been visitor safety and security" so many "national icon" parks have received increases to fund anti-terrorism activities.

Hansen and Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., once proposed a way they thought would decrease politics behind parks and park funding. They proposed creating a commission to review criteria for creating new parks, and whether some lesser-quality parks should be transferred to states or other groups to save money for other parks.

Environmental groups and the Clinton administration attacked that and proclaimed it a "park closure commission." Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said all parks are gems and important to different groups. Some groups claimed Hansen was putting Yellowstone and Yosemite at risk of closure.

"That's not what we were trying to do. But we were creamed politically," Hansen said.

He adds it would be tough to resurrect such an idea because it would be an easy political target and easy to misunderstand. "Still, I see a lot of value in it. I think it would help meritorious parks do a better job and have the money they need," Hansen said.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com

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