Bush Seeks Public-Private Funding Boost for Parks

President Bush's plan to increase funding for national parks and monuments calls for up to $2 billion in public money and $1 billion from donors.
President Bush's plan to increase funding for national parks and monuments calls for up to $2 billion in public money and $1 billion from donors. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

President Bush traveled to Shenandoah National Park yesterday to tout his proposal to increase funding for national parks by $258 million next year, the first step in a plan to spend as much as $3 billion in public and private money on the popular attractions over the coming decade.

Bush's proposal, which critics called a sharp turn for a president whose previous budgets did not address maintenance and staffing problems at parks across the country, targets one of the few domestic areas where he has called for funding significant new initiatives in his fiscal 2008 spending plan.

The plan would pump $1 billion into the nation's 390 national parks and monuments by 2016, the park system's centennial. The proposal, which must be approved by Congress, would also call on private donors and philanthropies to donate as much as an additional $1 billion. The donated funds would be matched by the federal government.

"It's a bold program that calls upon the government to do its part, as well as our citizens to become invested in a campaign to really enhance the parks," Bush said. "The funding starts with a billion-dollar request over the next 10 years that I'll send up to Congress. It's really to enhance the operating missions of our parks. I'm looking forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats to get this initiative passed."

Bush's proposal, unveiled with his budget earlier this week, was applauded by parks advocates who say it is a much-needed boost for a park system straining to provide services for 270 million visitors a year.

"This budget proposal is a victory for all Americans who cherish our heritage and homeland. The Administration has responded to the diminished condition and serious needs of America's national parks and proposed a dramatic and unprecedented significant investment to help restore our parks before their centennial," National Parks Conservation Association President Tom Kiernan said in a statement.

But some critics were leery of Bush's idea of relying in part on private donations to fund major improvements in the nation's parks.

"While many Americans value the role of private philanthropy in supporting our National Park system, the administration's increasing reliance on the private sector in this capacity is troubling," said Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. "Our National Parks are national treasures -- and their funding is a national responsibility."

As Bush was campaigning for his parks initiative in the Blue Ridge Mountains, press secretary Tony Snow was challenging the notion that the administration's interest in the parks -- and the environment more generally -- marks a change for the president. Snow noted that last year Bush created the largest protected marine reserve in the world when he set aside as a national park an island chain spanning 1,400 miles of the Pacific northwest of Hawaii.

Snow also countered suggestions that Bush had denied that global warming has a large human component. The White House later released an open letter citing statements dating to 2001 in which Bush had said global warming was largely man-made.

"This is not new. Just as many people have been saying, 'Wow, isn't the president -- isn't it nice that the president has finally agreed that global warming has man-made components,' only to find out, because we've been telling you, that he first started talking about it in June of 2001," Snow said. "There's been a lot of misreporting, or perhaps it just hasn't -- perhaps folks have not taken notice of the fact that this is an administration that's been keenly committed both to environmentalism and conservationism from the start."

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