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Published: Friday, 2/9/2007

Pay for parks upkeep

PRESIDENT Bush's 2008 budget may be dead on arrival in the hands of Capitol Hill Democrats, but there's one provision we hope survives: More money for the deteriorating national parks system.

While defense spending and the war in Iraq gets the lion's share of the President's proposal, Mr. Bush has requested a $258 million increase for operation of the 390 federal parks, many of which are badly in need of maintenance and repair.

If the appropriation emerges intact from the congressional budget process, the extra funding would constitute unexpected progress for the beleaguered system, although it would be only a small down payment on the $4.9 billion backlog of park maintenance Mr. Bush promised to eliminate when he first ran in 2000.

A report nearly a year ago from the Government Accountability Office showed that the maintenance backlog only got larger from 2001 to 2005, as the administration held funding to an inflation-adjusted 1.3 percent.

The flat-line budgeting, in the face of an estimated $800 million annual operations shortfall, caused the closing and curtailing of facilities and programs at many of our most beloved parks.

While taxpayers cannot afford to fund every last item on the parks' wish-list, it must be remembered that a relatively small amount of money for regular maintenance now will save huge expenditures later if the facilities are allowed to deteriorate.

And there are always unexpected expenses, like the $36 million urgently needed to restore roads, bridges, and campgrounds washed out by a flood last year in Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington state.

The national parks, which incorporate the finest elements of this nation's outdoor resources, must be maintained properly so that they continue to serve their planned purpose: to perpetuate the natural legacy each generation of Americans leaves to the next.

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