Park Service director on national parks centennial; compares Rob Bishop, Raul Grijalva congressional bills

WASHINGTON, D.C. — National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis highlighted key provisions Wednesday included in the Obama administration’s National Park Service centennial proposal and a draft bill from House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Jarvis emphasized the importance of the park service’s 100th anniversary in 2016 and the agency’s focus on preparing for a second century of public service during a hearing on proposed centennial legislation held by the House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on Federal Lands.

“The National Park Service centennial is focused on connecting with and creating the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates,” Jarvis said. “To that end, Congress must increase funding — including mandatory appropriations — to improve park infrastructure and visitors (visitation) and to help develop the next generation of park stewards.”

The Obama administration’s proposal was introduced in September by House Natural Resources Ranking Member Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-New Mexico, as HR 3556.

Four areas are common to the Bishop draft and the Grijalva bill:

  • Authority for an endowment for the National Park Foundation and authority to accept gifts, bequests and devises and additional funds for use on national park projects
  • Authority to create the next generation of park stewards by increasing the number of volunteers in national parks and the number of young people eligible for the Public Lands Corps, a program that provides a path to National Park Service employment; as well as direction to adopt new technologies for interpretation and education programs to engage park visitors and new audiences
  • Authority to obtain fees or royalties from the sale of reproductions of museum objects in NPS collections
  • Authority to reorganize the National Park Foundation by allowing the board of directors to elect its own leadership and to provide annual appropriations that the foundation can use to match private funds for projects that support the park service

Jarvis said the Bishop draft and Grijalva’s bill both seek to reduce $11.5 billion of deferred maintenance of national park facilities and to increase support for the National Park Foundation so that it may leverage citizen and business contributions for national park projects.

Many park roads, trails, buildings and other infrastructure visitors rely on are wearing out or have had scheduled maintenance deferred because of limits on federal budgets in the past decade. Jarvis highlighted the administration’s proposal for a Centennial Challenge: a three-year effort to invest up to $1.5 billion of federal dollars for deferred maintenance and to address high-priority projects and programs of the NPS.

It would also create a National Park Foundation endowment to bolster annual maintenance funding and other needs of the NPS. The Bishop draft creates an endowment but does not include the three-year, federally-funded deferred maintenance effort.

“The advantage of the president’s proposal is that it targets the highest priority maintenance work, which will stop the growth of deferred maintenance, and it provides other sources of funding that can leverage private dollars for the benefit of the National Park Service,” Jarvis said. “When the fund expires after fiscal year 2018, we’ll be positioned to use our regular annual appropriations with the additional funding authorized in the proposal to continue to reduce the backlog.”

Jarvis said congressionally authorized flexibility in its visitor services management authority is another way to improve visitor services.

“We believe this flexibility would allow us to move away from one-size-fits-all models for contacts (sic) and bidding to use of industry standard contract models or to negotiate contracts,” Jarvis said, “especially for park lodging.”

Overall, Jarvis said, the bipartisan approach to the centennial legislation illustrates the overwhelming public support for America’s national parks.

“I think helping the National Park Service get ready for the next century of preservation, stewardship and service to America is an example of the good work we know Congress can accomplish,” he said.

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