- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2003

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — President Bush yesterday called on Congress to spend billions upgrading America’s national parks because “we want the toilets to flush.”

“We’ve got to get a commitment from the appropriators in Congress to spend enough money to maintain our parks,” he said during a hike through Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “And so I’m calling on Congress to spend $5 billion over the next five years.”

Actually, Mr. Bush has already obtained $1.8 billion of that over the last two years. He has requested $1.1 billion for this year’s budget and plans to ask Congress for a combined $2.2 billion over the following two years.

“When visitors show up for the Cape Cod National Seashore and its beauty, we want there to be a visitors center that’s worth going in to,” the president said. “We want the toilets to flush.

“We want the potholes to be taken out of the parking lot,” he added. “Whatever the problem is, we need to address it, so that the people, when it comes to using their own park, are able to do so in a comfortable way.”

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton told The Washington Times that some of the money is being spent on a new wastewater system at Yellowstone National Park, where antiquated systems have dumped raw sewage into waterways.

Mrs. Norton accompanied the president on his hike through the sun-drenched foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Near the end of their walk, they came across a sizable rattlesnake resting in some brush at the side of the trail.

Rather than recoil from the snake, Mr. Bush paused, leaned forward and admired the creature, much to Mrs. Norton’s amusement.

“This is a beautiful place,” said the president, whose favorite pastime is to work the land at his 1,600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas. “It’s a little different from Crawford.

“But the work is just as hard,” he added. “If it looks like I’m kind of sweaty, it’s because I am. I’ve been shoveling dirt to make sure the trails are maintained so people can use them.”

Indeed, the president transferred six shovel loads of dirt from a prepositioned pile of dirt on the trail to a ditch running up the side of a mountain. It was a photo op designed to portray him as helping half a dozen volunteers curb erosion in the nation’s largest urban national park, which sprawls across 153,700 acres of mountains and coastlines in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

“God designed this park’s beauty, but men and women make sure it remains beautiful,” said the president, an avid outdoorsman. “And that’s an important part about conservation. It’s man’s ability to make sure that God’s beauty is maintained and preserved, and that when people use it, they use it in a respectful way.”

On the way to the park, the president was cheered by hundreds of local residents who lined the streets to wave flags and brandish signs of support.

One girl clutched a sign proclaiming “Our Dog Loves Barney,” a reference to the president’s dog. A woman held a banner asserting that “Teachers Love George W. Bush.”

But in front of the last house on the route, four persons held up letters that spelled the word “LIES.” They were flanked by several dozen Bush backers who noisily proclaimed their support as if to mitigate the presence of the protesters.

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