(Originally posted on Virtual Blue Ridge’s Blue Ridge Parkway Blog, July 25, 2008)
I subscribe to a Google groups listserv called Park Land Watch that sends me multiple articles every day about all kinds of issues facing the National Parks. The topics raised on the list remind me that our beloved Blue Ridge Parkway is part of a large national system of parks, and that its struggles are, by and large, emblematic of the troubles faced by the entire National Parks system.
On Wednesday this week, for instance, I got the a link to an article from the Honolulu Advertiser describing funding shortages at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The article reported on a recent study of the park’s resources by the National Parks Conservation Association, and noted that “Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said the 333,086-acre park needs 64 more employees, but lacks the money to hire them. The park has about 183 employees, including seasonal workers and staff who work at the park under cooperating agreements with other agencies. ‘Remember, this is not unique to this park,’ Orlando said. ‘It’s a system-wide issue. I think it speaks to the lack of funding for the system.’
Orlando is surely, sadly, right, and good for her for speaking out. As anyone who follows the Blue Ridge Parkway knows, staffing shortages here have in recent years become severe, with our own park down 56 permanent staff members whose positions it does not have the budget to fill. Details on the effects of the Parkway’s budget shortfalls may be found on the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s “Parkway Facts” page.
When thinking about the Parkway’s history, it has been important for me always to bear in mind both the local and regional context in which the Parkway came to be, and the national economic and political changes — such as the Depression and New Deal –that profoundly shaped its development.
While the in-process General Management Plan may be dealing with some of those local/regional issues, the Parkway is never going to be the park it could and should be unless the national political situation changes in ways that bring substantial and sustained additional federal funding to our National Park system. For the sake of Hawaii Volcanoes and the Blue Ridge Parkway and all 389 other National Park sites, I fervently hope that the day when that change will come is nearly at hand.