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White Sands National Park and an Open Letter to Congress

Update December 21, 2020, a year has passed since White Sands became a National Park. In the next couple of days, we will be getting National Park #63. Yet again, I should be excited but I’m not. This year, it’s a combination of frustration and dread. I want to be excited but unlike our politicians, I’m not blind. I see the repairs that the parks need and while I am happy Congress finally decided to pass the Great American Outdoors Act. Good job, it only took you 30 years to pass the damn thing. Wonder how long it will take to get the rest of the deferred maintenance funded along with some money to improve the infrastructure in the existing parks to better handle the crowds. But I guess I should be thankful for a new national park. So here’s your sarcastic pat on the back for a job well done.

Dear Members of Congress,

I should be really excited and celebrating the creation of the 62nd National Park. But, I can’t celebrate when I’m frustrated that once again politicians put gaining short-term political gains with their constituents over long-term sustainability of our National Parks.

Congress saw fit to pass the 738 BILLION DOLLAR National Defense Authorization Act that in part elevated White Sand National Monument to National Park status but couldn’t be bothered to include 3.1 million dollars to cover the current deferred maintenance in White Sands.

I really wish I could celebrate a new National Park but I can’t. Because I refuse to bury my head in the proverbial sand and ignore the issue facing our national parks.

White Sands is going to be yet another park that is going to see a huge increase in tourism, without the infrastructure to handle it. If Indiana Dunes is any example, is White Sands ready for 30% more visitors? Can it handle an extra 180,000 visitors a year? Does it have parking for that many additional visitors? Does it have the staffing to patrol and manage the extra crowds? Do the bathrooms have the capacity to handle that increase?

You, the members of Congress, don’t appear to be asking these questions, but I can guarantee National Park Service is. They are looking at their budget and staffing and thinking about how to cover the increased needs of White Sands while minimizing service cuts in the other NPS units in the region.  

I’m tired and frustrated that members of Congress are perfectly willing to give lip service to protecting and funding our parks. But they can’t be bothered to take REAL action to ensure our parks are properly maintained and protected.  In February 2019, 30 members of the Senate were happy to co-sponsor a token bill (Restore Our Parks Act) about park funding. But nothing has happened beyond the nice public announcement that the bill has been introduced.

If you were willing to take real action to protect our parks, you would be actively working on passing bills that include funding for the following:

  • Staffing issues (Parks not having enough staff, high turnover, underpaid)
  • Existing park need improvements such as
    • More Bathrooms
    • Public Transportation Systems
    • Improved interpretation exhibits or build actual visitor centers

It is starting to feel like OUR elected officials only see the National Parks as a way to score political points with constituents and the good press without considering costs (both in monetary and human impact) to our national parks

It is critical that our National Parks be properly maintained and adequately staffed to protect the remarkable geology, spectacular scenery, and outstanding recreation experiences for future generations. If we don’t, we can say goodbye to the economic impact of the parks and vibrant park gateway communities that rely on the National Parks crowds.  

It is estimated that National Park visitors spent 20.2 billion dollars and provided 268,000 jobs in park gateway communities in 2018.  If we allow the parks to continue to be run with inferior and inadequate infrastructure and barely managed crowds, America’s best idea will be destroyed by the visitors who are coming to enjoy them.  

Something has to give and I hate to think that Dr. Gil Lusk, a former Park Superintendent of Glacier and Big Bend, is right and we need to start closing national parks to save the National Park System.

So I wanted to ask all the members of Congress, are the National Parks an issue that actually matters to you or are they just talking points that you bring out once in a while when you need some good press?


Jennifer Melroy, A Frustrated National Lover

P.S. The token $133 million “increase” of the NPS’s budget this year doesn’t cut it. That will barely keep-up with addition maintenance needs that have developed or the increase in repair costs of the further delayed maintenance.

If you are reading this and you are as frustrated as I am over the National Park Service’s funding woes, please share your concerns with your elected officials. Click here to find the contact information for your elected officials.
Please call, email, post on their Facebook Page, anything to let them know that you are tired of our national parks just being talking points. Feel free to share this letter with them or write your own.

If we can’t get Congress to act, here are my top 5 UNPOPULAR suggestions for funding our parks outside of a Congressional funding bill.

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Sunday 22nd of December 2019

Thank you for writing this! I love our parks and I love having 'new' parks, but I hate seeing the lack of funding to handle them result in damage to the environment that the whole system is meant to protect. Keep at it!! ?

Jennifer Melroy

Sunday 22nd of December 2019

Thank you for your kind words. Please take a free moment and share this with your elected officials. We are only going to get action if we hold our elected officials accountable.

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