US state parks existence in jeopardy says report
A new report has found that despite being as popular as national parks, state parks nationwide are seriously threatened by development and political apathy towards them.
Legacy: The Crisis in Our Parks, a report by the conservation group, National Park Trust, found that more than 90,000 acres in the state parks are currently threatened by overuse, traffic, adjacent commercialism, encroachment, rapid land development, ever rising land values and privately owned land within the parks’ boundaries.
The report identified the most threatened state parks in the US and ranked the states with the most severely threatened parks. Georgia topped the list, with four parks in jeopardy, including the famous Etowah Indian Mounds, followed by North Carolina, Minnesota and Nevada.
“State parks face virtually the same threats and challenges afflicting national parks, often with fewer resources and less political fanfare,” Senator John McCain said after the report’s release on 25 August. “This year’s Legacy 2000 report by the National Park Trust is an important signal to all Americans to respond to this call to action to protect and defend our magnificent natural heritage.”
The report cited examples of the most threatened parks including:
- Blackwater Falls, West Virginia – Governor Underwood recently negotiated a deal with a developer to build condos on the canyon rim. The housing would be accessed through park roads, creating even more traffic in the park;
- Rosebud Battlefield, Montana – this site of a historic battle led by General Custer is threatened by potential development of the portion of the battlefield that is privately owned;
- Wormsloe Park, Georgia – the current construction adding two more lanes to the park road is creating significant noise and air pollution.
As well as encroaching development, the report also cites political inactivity for the parks’ demise. Although Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the purpose of acquiring private land almost 30 years ago, the US Government has been slow to make more than $5 billion allocated to the fund available for use by federal, state and local park officials.
The report says that fund accumulates almost $900 million each year from excise fees placed on oil exploration on the outer Continental Shelf, but that Congress must approve annually the amount of funds that can be withdrawn. In recent years, Congress has approved only a fraction of the funds needed to acquire private lands, the report says. Currently, the US Senate is considering the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which would help allocate the funds, but its passage through the Senate is unlikely and President Clinton has threatened to veto the legislation.
Funding for the 20 national parks identified by the National Park Service as the most threatened, due to the government’s failure to purchase privately owned land within the parks’ boundaries, was also examined. The National Park Service says that it requested $70.5 million to acquire privately owned lands in the 20 parks, yet only received $44.4 million. For several of these jeopardised national parks including Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, Olympic National Park in Washington and Mojave National Preserve in California, Congress failed to allocate any funds at all, the group says.
The report also calculated the states with the least amount of preserved land per person as Rhode Island followed by Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa.
“Visiting a park is supposed to be relaxing experience. But, as development puts more and more pressure on our parks, you’re more likely to see a strip mall or a housing development as you stroll through what once was a pristine area,” said Paul Pritchard, President of the National Park Trust. “If these trends continue, park visitors may one day find interstate highways, residential areas and shopping developments completely surrounding their parks”.
However, the Legacy 2000 report was not all doom and gloom identifying several examples of unique ways in which state governments, parks and individuals have helped to protect state park land. The Virginia Association of Parks is a one-of-a kind independent organisation, formed in 1997, to protect Virginia’s park lands.
The group advocates local, state and federal officials to protect the state’s parks, holds workshops and training programs on parks protection, and offers collaborative opportunities for private park support organisations to work together.
The full report is available from the National Park Service at www.parktrust.org.
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