The National Park Service can’t maintain its current parks. How could it support another?

I’m kind of excited that I took the time to talk about paradigm theory in my last post. Now whenever I want to make a reference to it, I can just insert a hyperlink to it. (Click here.) If you read that post, you know that paradigms are the patterns we use to lead our lives. But not all paradigms are healthy or useful as time passes.

Back when I first started blogging, I did considerable research on the Millinocket national park proposal, and my first response to my research was that the National Park Service is a paradigm that is no longer useful or healthy in terms of further land conservation and recreational access — nor is another national park necessarily going to be the economic boon our state urgently needs at this time.

S.W. Cole map courtesy of Maine Woods Coalition

S.W. Cole map (Courtesy of Maine Woods Coalition)

As a federal paradigm for land conservation and recreational access, our national park system is broken. National Public Radio did a great piece about the maintenance funding backlog and the impact it is having on the quality of the parks and on users’ experiences in them. The article is full of little nuggets supporting the idea that the park service is a broken paradigm.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis told NPR that he needs “about twice as much money as I currently get to address our maintenance backlog.” And,

Entrance fees, philanthropy and concession sales bring in more money to the park system, but National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis says it’s not enough. That much money may have covered the tab for the park system years ago, but not anymore.

A research fellow and economics professor who has long studied the park service, Holly Fretwell said “people need to be realistic about the funding situation.” Other Fretwell thoughts:

“There’s no way that Congress is going to appropriate enough funding to make up this total deferred maintenance backlog,” she says. They don’t have an additional $3 billion to give, she says, and the national parks aren’t that big of a priority.

“We have to do something different,” Fretwell says. “There’s no question, because we are losing the quality of our national parks.”

Fretwell has a few ideas. One is to limit the expansion of the National Park Service. It’s not popular with those who want to see more areas protected and preserved, but Fretwell says it doesn’t make sense for the Park Service to bring in more sites and areas when it can’t maintain what it already has.

In a separate essay, Fretwell refers to the designation of national monuments, something proposed by proponents of the national park, as a part of the problem, and in the NPR article a former director of the park service referred to all the expansions as “a thinning of the blood.”

On the state level, the usefulness of the paradigm is just as suspect. Acadia National Park is a jewel in Maine’s tourism crown. However a focus on tourism-based markets alone will not and has not replaced the economic driver that manufacturing used to be. Tourism and attendance at Acadia has boomed in recent years, but most counties continue to lose income nonetheless. 

No matter how you look at it, Maine cannot afford to waste any more time, resources, or land for a chance to participate in a broken paradigm.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.