Dear Congress: No New Parks, Please

Via Midcurrent I read that Congress is considering adding three new parks to the National Park System:

The three sites include the national laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, as well as the Hanford Nuclear Reactor in Washington. Each of the locations played a key role in the Manhattan Project, the top-secret program tasked with developing the first atomic weapons.

For a site to become a national park, the National Park Service will conduct a study to determine if the site meets specific qualifications. The first is that the site must be nationally significant, meaning the site (1) is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource, (2) possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our Nation’s heritage, (3) offers superlative opportunities for recreation, for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study, and/or (4) retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.

The second qualification is that the site must be a suitable addition to the National Park System, generally meaning that the site must represent a natural, cultural, or recreational resource that is not already adequately represented in the park system or by another land management agency. The third qualification is that the site must be feasible for inclusion in the system; that is, the area or site must be one that is of a size and configuration to allow the park service to purchase, administer, and successfully preserve the site.

I do not know if the three nuclear laboratories possess these qualifications. The park service will make that determination. And philosophically, I have no problem with adding new national parks or additional acreage to existing national parks. However, Congress has been playing this game a long time, a game in which they add new parks, generally for political popularity, without providing adequate funding to cover the costs associated with administering these new sites. As a result, there has been a general deterioration in the ability of the park service to keep up with existing responsibilities in areas such as facility maintenance, scientific research, protection and restoration of habitats and historic sites, and so on. I would suspect that if one prioritized the long list of things that need to be funded in the national parks, the available funding would run out long before we reached the ranking at which we’d find the need to include these three nuclear labs as new national parks.

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