A PRESIDENT who spent much of his youth surrounded by Hawaii’s natural splendors should be an unstinting supporter of the national parks. The parks need one badly - and not just because they have been understaffed for years and need $8 billion worth of deferred maintenance. As young Americans get heavier and heavier, the trails and campsites of the parks need an advocate who can help them regain their rightful place in Americans’ vacationing plans.
Even as the country’s population has grown over the last decade, the number of visitors to the parks and other areas administered by the National Park Service has fallen 4 percent since 1999. President Obama has already taken two steps to improve the parks. His budget would increase park spending by $135 million, and he has nominated a respected National Park Service professional, Jon Jarvis, as its director.
Congress can do its part by approving legislation to expand the Public Lands Service Corps Act. The corps offers stipends for work in the parks rehabbing campgrounds, restoring historic structures, eradicating invasive species, and conducting research projects. Participants include young people but also retirees and returning members of the military services, who serve as mentors.
Theories abound for why there have been fewer visitors to the parks. A program like the service corps should help reverse the trend. Not only does it make the parks more appealing to visitors, but it also turns corps members into ambassadors for the parks when they return to their communities. Congress should enlarge the corps and grant the park service the extra funds that Obama is seeking.