- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

In this era of federal budget shortfalls and belt tightening, it helps if your cause involves protecting such iconic American wonders as the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful and the giant redwoods. That’s why more than 500 supporters of all political stripes showed up at the National Building Museum Wednesday night for the National Parks Conservation Association’s annual fundraiser, Salute to the Parks.

Supporters raised $700,000 for the 87-year-old organization, the most vocal champion in Washington for preserving and improving the country’s incalculably popular national parks system.

“It’s something in the heart,” said event co-chairwoman Suzie Dicks, wife of Rep. Norman Dicks. “You get into these parks and you see their beauty,” she said, “and you know that it is incumbent on us to protect them.”

Guests from Capitol Hill included Sens. John Warner, Craig Thomas and Lamar Alexander (whose wife Honey also served as co-chairwoman) and Rep. Steve Pearce. Sen. Dianne Feinstein received the William Penn Mott Jr. Park Leadership Award for her years of support and for sponsoring the California Desert Protection Act to preserve Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and the Mojave National Preserve.

Historian James McPherson also was honored for “enhancing public understanding of national parks” and renewing interest in Civil War sites with his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, “Battle Cry of Freedom,” among other work.

Mr. McPherson admitted that he had spent so much time at the Gettysburg battlefield, “it’s almost my second home.”

Although the NPCA’s mission has few detractors, advocates at the dinner emphasized that the parks system is, like many other government entities, suffering from severe budget cuts. The Bush administration’s proposed 2007 budget would cut parks money by $100 million, NPCA spokeswoman Andrea Keller Helsel noted — and that’s on top of the park system’s $600 million funding shortfall and what is estimated to be a $5 billion-plus backlog in maintenance and preservation work.

Christina Ianzito

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