National Parks

January 17, 2014 • Volume 24, Issue 3
Has the park system grown too large to maintain?
By Jennifer Weeks


Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona (National Park Service)
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is one of 401 sites in the national park system, including battlefields, rivers, trails and monuments. Supporters say park maintenance and acquisition of new sites are underfunded; critics say the system has grown too big and expensive. (National Park Service)

National parks preserve some of the country's most spectacular resources and commemorate important events in U.S. history. The park system, which will turn 100 years old in 2016, receives about 280 million visitors each year. National parks represent a uniquely American idea: preserving special places for everyone to enjoy. But park managers and advocates say the system is underfunded and straining to maintain lodges, trails and other facilities. Critics in Congress argue that the park system has grown too big and expensive. They want to reallocate money from smaller, less-popular sites to larger, more famous ones and stop adding to the park system. Park advocates say the system must grow so it can encompass many kinds of places — including more urban and historic sites relevant to minorities. In their view, too, parks are important laboratories for studying climate change. But without stronger funding, they say, the system will struggle to connect with the public. In the short run, raising park fees may be the quickest way to ease budget shortfalls.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
National Parks
Jan. 17, 2014  National Parks
Oct. 06, 2006  National Parks Under Pressure
Jun. 16, 2000  Protecting the National Parks
May 28, 1993  National Parks
May 22, 1987  National Parks
Feb. 16, 1972  National Parks Centennial
Climate Change
National Parks and Reserves
Wildlife and Endangered Species