Members of the National Parks Conservation Association, National Park Foundation, and National Park Hospitality Association participated in a White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors on March 2. Following the conference, the National Parks Conservation Association and National Park Hospitality Association issued a joint statement that will be shared with officials at Interior to underscore our thanks for highlighting the importance of national parks, and also to underscore the need for additional funds for the parks as we near the 2016 Centennial anniversary.
Hundreds of conservation community leaders, ranchers and farmers, recreationists and sportsmen, businessmen and women, federal, state and local officials and others gathered in Washington on Friday, March 2, for the White House Conference on Conservation: Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy. The session occurred as the second anniversary of the current Administration’s first Conference on Conservation, which kicked off the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative. Presentations at the Conference highlighted the opportunities for partnerships and collaboration.
We especially appreciated that President Obama’s remarks highlighted the important role that national parks play in sustaining and improving the nation’s economy. He championed both growing park visitation and protecting air, water and scenic qualities. The President understands, as we do, that sites from Yosemite to the Great Smoky Mountains, and from the Statue of Liberty to Mesa Verde drive the country’s economy at all levels, as well as act as a physical record of our nation’s history and its incredible natural attributes. The President’s AGO report and the National Park Service’s (NPS) A Call to Action five-year plan both provide starting blueprints for improving the health and quality of the national parks as we approach the 2016 NPS centennial.
We applaud the President’s message and know that it will take hard work and dedication to convert plans to reality. That is why National Parks Conservation Association, National Park Hospitality Association and the National Park Foundation, in collaboration with the National Park Service, hosted the America’s Summit on National Parks in January 2012. This first of its type gathering sought to engage our national parks community on topics vital to the future of our national parks, including connecting youth and urban communities with the national parks, conserving natural and cultural landscapes, capitalizing on the economic impact of parks, and expanding the diversity of national park visitors. Efforts launched at the Summit continue. “The National Park Principles,” arising from the Summit and expressing strong, shared support for the national parks and related conservation, historic preservation, and recreation programs, have already been endorsed by nearly 100 businesses, philanthropic, conservation, tourism and recreation groups and prominent individuals. These Principles will soon be shared with our nation’s leaders.
Adequate funding for parks and park programs is vital. Every dollar invested in national parks returns at least four dollars into local economies. And that return is one of the reasons we feel that federal spending on national parks and park programs can and should grow as a strategy to protect key places, safeguard and assist visitors and bring sustainable vitality to rural America. We also know that the federal budget process is far from nimble, and we assume that this problem is why there is such a disconnection between the President’s message at the Conference and the essentially “flat-line” budget proposal offered for our national parks and public lands in FY 2013. Adequately-funded national parks can bring lower unemployment, sustainable businesses, and more vibrant communities. Not all funding needs to be appropriated funds – philanthropy, fees, partnerships, volunteerism and other strategies are key to long term financial sustainability for our parks. But appropriate core federal funding is vital to improve infrastructure, expand educational outreach, and preserve these special places for future generations. Through partnerships, our parks will become even more welcoming to visitors and make local economies more robust.