April 21, 2007
By Seth Shteir
National Park Service Centennial
By Seth Shteir
As an elementary school teacher I'm well aware of how important the national parks are in the eyes of my students. One September, on the first day of school, seven year old Jared blurted out excitedly, "We saw California condors at the Grand Canyon!" This January, after returning from a family trip, eleven year old Maya wrote haiku about Yosemite's stunning winter scenery. However, the national parks which have played such an important role in the lives of children like Jared and Maya, face myriad threats including an 800 million dollar operating shortfall, invasive species, encroaching development, staffing cuts, slashed education programs, crime and decaying infrastructure.
Our southern California national parks are no exception. Illegal drugs are being trafficked through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Only 13 rangers patrol Death Valley's vast 3.4 million acres-an area bigger than the state of Delaware. Archeological surveys have been conducted on less than 5% of Joshua Tree National Park. None of the objects in Mojave National Preserve's small museum collection have been cataloged. Overall, the National Park Service has just one park service interpreter for every 100,000 visitors.
Because of these problems and because the National Park Service is ten years away from celebrating its centennial in 2016, it has been attempting to engage the American public in a dialog about the future of our parks. In recent weeks, the NPS asked the public to imagine how they, their children and future generations want to enjoy the national parks. The NPS wanted to know the public's hopes and expectations. Key to this process were listening sessions and written comments. But the listening sessions and public comment period are only the beginning of this national discourse.