The National Park Service recently got a potent lesson in the importance of timely maintenance: One of its buildings fell down.

Park Service managers of the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site in Atlanta had been awaiting federal funds to renovate the decrepit, Queen Anne-style home next door to the birthplace of the slain civil rights leader. But the money never came, and last June the antiquated structure collapsed in a heap.

"We knew any strong wind would have blown it over, but we didn't have the money," said Superintendent Jerry Belson, who fears that another of the site's historic homes may soon meet the same fate. "It was very embarrassing."

Nationwide, the Park Service has identified a $1 billion backlog of maintenance and repair needs, and there are signs that the Bush administration has been listening. Although many park needs will remain unmet for the forseeable future, the president's 1992 budget proposal targets substantial new funds toward preservation of Park Service facilities and natural resources.

"We've got a budget this year that is a remarkable improvement from anything we saw in the Reagan years," said Bruce Craig of the National Parks and Conservation Association. "It's sort of remarkable."

Lean times notwithstanding, environmental programs did not fare badly in the president's budget proposal. Overall, the Park Service would receive $1.31 billion under the president's plan, only slightly less than the amount Congress appropriated for 1991. The president proposed an 8 percent increase in the operating budget for the Environmental Protection Agency and a 9 percent increase in toxic waste cleanup, as well as new funds for endangered species programs, Civil War battlefields, recreation in national forests and research of global warming.

"I must say that I'm impressed," said Steve Moyer of the National Wildlife Federation after reviewing the budget proposal for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It looks remarkably good."

But environmentalists also found plenty to criticize in the president's budget. For example, while the president proposed a 16 percent increase in funding for trails, campsites and other recreational programs in national forests, he also called for cuts in U.S. Forest Service spending to protect fish, wildlife, water and other resources.

"They're playing a shell game with us," one environmentalist said.

Even the $164 million increase in spending proposed for the EPA failed to satisfy critics.

"The negligible increase in the EPA budget reveals once again that the so-called environmental president scores high on rhetoric but very low on performance," said Gene Karpinski, executive director of the Public Interest Research Group.

After a decade of sharp budget cuts during the Reagan years, the Park Service faces enormous needs. For example, Belson, the park superintendent, said that 14 buildings in the 18-acre King historic district require renovation, at a cost of about $6 million. Yet the president's budget provides only $44,000 for that purpose.

"We needed money yesterday," said Belson, noting that the park attracted a record 1.3 million visitors last year. "It's kind of a shame we can't really give the {historic} district what it needs . . . . It's the only park in the system with a black theme."

But under the circumstances, the Park Service seems to have prospered. The plan calls for $93 million in new funds for park management, a category that includes everything from trail maintenance to the nature talks given around campfires by park rangers. The budget includes $15 million in new funds for protecting Civil War battlefields, and $117 million for acquisition of new park lands -- $37.4 million more than the president requested last year.

The service did lose a hefty $154 million out of its construction budget, reflecting the administration's desire to concentrate its resources on immediate "infrastructure" needs. "Our budget is very good in the areas that matter," said a Park Service official.

At the EPA, the spending target of $2.5 billion includes a $117 million raise for implementation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the most far-reaching environmental law passed in years. New regulations must be drafted for everything from auto pollution to acid rain controls. And more money is budgeted to pay the salaries of 600 new officials to help enforce the program.

"These resources will enable EPA to go a long way towards fulfilling the administration's commitment to provide cleaner air for every American," EPA Administrator William K. Reilly said in his budget statement.

A small but significant figure -- $20 million -- is budgeted for the U.N. fund to help developing countries avoid use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) -- cheap, ubiquitous chemicals blamed for eroding the stratospheric ozone layer. The fund may foreshadow larger aid programs needed to get the Third World to reduce its use of coal and oil believed to cause warming of the Earth's surface.

The administration, which stresses the scientific uncertainty of global warming to justify its wait-and-see policy, proposed a 24 percent increase in spending for research on global climate change. That would push the budget to $1.2 billion, drawn from a variety of agencies, including the EPA.

Another sizable increase -- $9.5 million -- is slated for the EPA's pesticide program, furthering Reilly's hopes to project the United States as the "world leader in food safety." Much of the $117 million budget would pay for a quicker pace of reevaluating chemicals that have been on the market for years despite evidence that they cause health problems.

For the water program, Reilly proposed an increase of $5.9 million to help protect the nation's dwindling wetlands and a $6 million contribution to the interagency effort to foster coastal resources.

Environmentalists were encouraged by proposed spending increases in programs to protect endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently is burdened with a long backlog of threatened plants and animals awaiting protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under the president's plan, endangered species programs would receive $37.6 million, up $5 million from 1991.