- - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Washington Times editorial, “A haircut for the National Park Service” (April 22), urging the government to dump costly, unpopular sites, offers a shortsighted view that, fortunately, is not shared by the majority of Americans. National park visitation is marginally informative, but it tells little about a park’s importance to our shared heritage.

To suggest that funding shortfalls be resolved by shuttering less-frequented national parks is misguided. Each national park is recognized for its national significance, not its anticipated visitation. If we were to follow the logic offered in your editorial, most of Alaska’s national parks would close, as would historically significant places like the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Monument example that was mentioned pays tribute to World War II’s worst home-front disaster, in which 320 troops lost their lives. This tragic event was a turning point in desegregating the U.S. military. The monument’s low visitation was noted, but the editorial failed to mention that it is not owned by the National Park Service and is located on an active military installation. Opportunities to visit require reservations and are limited.

National parks are one of the best bargains for American taxpayers. The National Park Service budget represents just 1/15th of 1 percent of the federal budget and costs the average family $2.56, or the price of a cup of coffee, in taxes each year. For such a small investment, visitors to America’s national parks generate $27 billion in economic activity and support nearly a quarter-million jobs nationwide. Every dollar invested in the nation’s parks generates $10 in economic activity.

The fact is, the National Park Service budget has been cut by 8 percent, or $180 million, in recent years, along with the damaging across-the-board “sequestration” cuts and the 16-day government shutdown. It’s time to stop cutting and start investing. Bipartisan polling found nine out of 10 voters agree that national park funding should not be cut further.

As we prepare for the parks’ 100th anniversary in 2016, Congress should support the Centennial Initiative proposed by the Bush and Obama administrations, and a strong budget that will help national parks recover from neglect, better serve visitors and leave a lasting legacy.

Theresa Pierno

Chief operating officer

National Parks Conservation Association

Washington