National Park Service turns 100, but lacks funds to maintain

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For some, nature and hiking trails have been something that needs to be accessed by car, but for Vermonters, green is everywhere.

Today, and all year long, a particular sector of nature is being acknowledged; The National Parks Service. It's the 100th anniversary of preserved land and monuments — about 1,200 in more than 100 nations.

Founded on Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act to create the service in order to protect 35 national parks and monuments. It stated that the federal organization must conserve "the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner," as well as to leave the sites untouched for present and future generations.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., an advocate for the National Park Service (NPS) and other conservation and stewardship programs, released a statement on Tuesday describing the value of the protected lands in hopes Vermonters get to experience it all.

"The National Park Service has also helped each of Vermont's 14 counties, thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program I have fought hard to fund annually," he wrote. "The LWCF has enabled the National Park Service to help dozens of Vermont communities with grants to plan, acquire, build, maintain and renovate local parks and recreation areas, bringing long-lasting health and social benefits. Through this program, NPS extends the benefits of outdoor recreation well beyond the boundaries of the national parks and into the neighborhoods where the Americans live and work every day."

In June, $2.1 million was awarded to AmeriCorps workers, some of whom work with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps on trail maintenance, erosion control and invasive plant removal. VYCC development coordinator Eric Recchia said this has a lot to do with the role that national parks have in society.

"It's part of our history as a country. They not only help to preserve wild spaces but provide access to the population that if they weren't preserved and upkept as far as there being recreational facilities on public land, people wouldn't be able to access them," Recchia said. "Infrastructure is important to keep up because it deteriorates and we lose the accessibility. It's more expensive to put back in place than to continuously maintain it. [The crews] spend time out in nature and see how much work effort goes into the infrastructure so they respect it and appreciate it."

He added that nature is crucial to an individual's thoughtfulness and meditation practices. The service crews also take their gained appreciation and responsibility associated with the park service and practice it in their own lives.

As far as funding goes, the NPS relies on its own foundation, in addition to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the account for which Leahy advocatess. According to an article on Outside Online, 60 percent of national parks have operated under the LWCF and from 2011 to 2014, 58 percent of the funds were granted to non-federal projects.

Another article states that Congress slashed NPS' budget by 70 percent in 2011, and now it faces funding challenges while researching in preparation of climate change.

"I know that we do work strongly with our various state representatives and congressmen," Recchia said.. "They're big supporters of access in national parks and the sorts of programs that we do as far as job programs. They definitely support the work and there's always lots of discussion over budgetary expenditures on the state and national level. There's a very large backlog of work that needs to be done in the national parks. Unfortunately we don't currently allocate the funding necessary to preserve all that infrastructure. [However] there's a huge opportunity to put youth to work."

While Vermont benefits from these conservation efforts, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof begs to differ that it's been effective elsewhere, based on his experience hiking the John Muir Trail, part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The path stretches from Mexico to Canada, but the Muir Trail ends at Yosemite National Park. In his talk of everyone owning land protected by the NPS he mentions the lack of funds available to upkeep 6,700 miles of trails in poor condition.

"Even on the John Muir Trail, large stretches are in disrepair and had turned into creeks of snowmelt when my daughter and I hiked them. This quickly erodes the trails so much that new ones have to be built nearby. This reluctance to pay for maintenance isn't even fiscally prudent, for it's far more expensive to build new trails than to maintain old ones," Kristof wrote.

Vermonters may not be able to help clean up the John Muir trail, but volunteers and workers who are part of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps have been doing their part on the East Coast. On Aug. 18 a crew of five workers installed a new bulletin board on the Appalachian Trail near Bromley Mountain. VYCC partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to do so. It was stated that most kiosk structures hadn't been updated since the middle of the 1990s.

In Vermont, the Appalachian trail passes through various towns and runs from Maine to Georgia. There's also the historic Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park in Woodstock, which shares a lot of characteristics the state embodies, including 400-year-old hemlocks, covered bridges and rambling stone walls, as well as a story of stewardship of connecting people to the land.

Additionally managed by NPS is one wild and scenic river, 831 historic places, 18 historic landmarks, 12 natural landmarks, five threatened and endangered species in the national parks and 150 places recorded by heritage documentation programs.

In honor of the NPS' centennial, the organization encourages people to locate their favorite national park and celebrate to embark on another century of stewardship and conservation. Find your park at NPS.gov.

— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-490-6471.


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