Let me first say that this piece will not really be political. At least, I don’t think so. What it will be is a defense of our national parks, which are badly in need of repair and are already operating on a shoe-string budget.
Tonight, as America celebrates the birth of a nation, Trump plans to hold a fireworks spectacular and military parade in Washington, D.C. No problem; that’s all fine and grand. Except for the fact that Trump, apparently, plans to pay for this spectacle with 2.5 million dollars that will be diverted from the national parks system. Why? Because the event is being held at the National Mall, which is managed by NPS.
Why this matters.
First, let me say that I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong military parades qua military parades. Second, let me suggest that flexing military muscle in this fashion suggest weakness, not might. When you’re the king, the last thing you want to do is go around reminding people that you’re the king. That looks more like a tantrum and openly acknowledges that people question your authority or right to rule. Additionally, the present author tends to hold Trump to a higher degree of skepticism because his history of praising and cozying up to dictatorial world leaders—Un, Putin, Duterte, MbS— looks conspicuously suspicious, thus making the parade more likely to come off as propaganda.
But forget all that. I just needed to vent. The real tragedy is that Trump is going to use funds from our National Parks Service to help, in part at least, pay for this event: 2.5 million dollars of funding will be transferred. Moreover, no one really knows what the actual final cost of the entire event will be.
Only three days ago, on Monday, I published a piece on how the national parks face extinction in years to come. In that piece I focused on how the shifting American demographic threatens these national treasures.
This administration already desperately underfunds our parks and has taken steps to significantly reduce their scope—think Bear’s Ears. Too, earlier this year Trump shut down the government due to conflict surrounding funding over the border wall. This had two disastrous effects. During that shut-down the parks were open, but parks were either not staffed or significantly understaffed which meant an inability to collect entrance fees and no rangers or police to regulate visitor behavior and activities. Once the parks reopened, they were forced to use entrance fees to clean up the ruins of human stupidity. Normally these fees would be used for “maintenance projects, visitor services, wildlife habitat projects, law enforcement and recreation projects – projects intended to repair parks and otherwise enhance the visitor experience” (NPCA press release). The parks already face a $12 billion dollar backlog in needed repairs and upkeep, such as roads and facilities. And yet the Trump administration plans to cut funding for NPS by an additional $480 million dollars. Add another $6 million to that in uncollected fees caused by the shutdown and the parks system looks like it’s on life support. Will it make it?
The second calamity to come out of the shut down was the destruction of national treasures like the Joshua Trees at Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree National Park covers roughly 1,235 square miles, or an area approximately the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, so with only eight rangers on staff to police and clean an area that size, well… National Parks Traveler published a piece on their site detailing the devastation: “With no maintenance crews to collect trash or maintain restrooms, and no budget to pay for outside help, many parks have been blighted by litter and human waste. There have been reports of illegal off-road travel, metal detecting on battlefields in the park system, and damage to resources.” They went on to detail that Joshua Trees had been cut down to make new roads either to access wilderness areas of the park or to circumvent extant gates.
Whatever your political stance or position on this president and the administration’s politics, one thing seems abundantly clear: neither he nor his administration give a single fuck about or understand the significance and import of our national parks. And that is the real shame here. As someone who cares about the outdoors and the mission of the national parks in preserving these spaces, I view the diversion of these funds as little more than a theft from the American people. But don’t take my word for it. Let me leave you with the statement made by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association:
“Siphoning off desperately needed money from our national parks to pay for a spectacle on our National Mall is both reckless and a breach of the public’s trust.
“It was just a few months ago that this administration chose to rob entrance fee money to illegally operate our national parks during the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Our national parks paid the price, including lost fee revenue and irreparable damage.
“And now we’re dealing with another attempt by the administration to raid this money, which will dig our parks into an even bigger financial hole. Two and a half million dollars might not seem like a lot to this administration, but to a national park it’s everything. Fee dollars are meant to protect our parks irreplaceable resources and enhance visitors’ experiences, not fund Presidential stunt. “The Park Service is already operating on a shoestring budget, and park staff have come to heavily rely on visitor fee dollars to fund law enforcement personnel, create educational programs for visitors, and address the nearly $12 billion in needed repairs for crumbling park buildings, trails and roads.
“With just a few hours until the event, we still have many unanswered questions about this misuse of taxpayer dollars. Independence Day on the National Mall has always been a place to celebrate patriotism and what it means to be an American. The administration is marring that tradition with its actions, and the repercussions will be felt for a long time to come.”
Raise your voice. Get out there. Be heard. Make a difference.