Focus on Water: National Parks Play Vital Role in Restoring Great Lakes
Our national parks on the Great Lakes offer 620 miles of shoreline, beaches, dunes, and wetlands. These parks–like Sleeping Bear Dunes along Lake Michigan, Isle Royale in Lake Superior, and Perry’s Victory in Lake Erie–have tremendous biological, historical, and recreational value for the more than six million people that visit each year. And these national parks are economic generators, with every dollar invested generating about $10 to local Great Lakes communities.
But threats to the health of the Great Lakes and to the 13 national parks in the watershed abound. The National Park Service battles invasive species, falling water levels, eroding shorelines, and contaminated tributary lakes and rivers, while using ever-shrinking budgets to combat these threats. A few years ago, however, an important federal funding source was established to restore the Great Lakes and improve water quality to the more than 30 million Americans that depend on the lakes for their drinking water–the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI.
The GLRI provides about $300 million each year to many projects in cities, rivers, and harbors around the lakes. It provides the National Park Service with critical annual funding to respond to ecosystem needs in eight of our Great Lakes parks, with more than $18 million of GLRI funding currently allocated to restoration projects. And we are seeing great results.
NPCA has put together a compelling list of successful GLRI-funded projects at our Great Lakes national parks. A Sound Investment: Restoring the Great Lakes in our National Parks provides a look at six projects currently underway. Check out the Park Service’s award-winning film series, Little Things, Big Problems, funded by GLRI dollars. The films discuss the dangers of invasive species like zebra mussels and the Round Goby, how they’re impacting our Great Lakes, and how the public can help stem the spread of these invaders.
A great example of GLRI funding in action is the “Reconnecting Waterways” project at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which has created jobs for land surveyors, hydrologists, and soil scientists and has engaged hundreds of volunteers, including a group of college students helping out with assistance from NPCA. So far, nearly 55 acres of wetlands have been restored and native water birds such as coots, kingfishers, and green herons have returned to the national lakeshore after being gone from the park for more than 100 years.
At a time when the Park Service budget faces additional cuts, which can lead to smaller workforces and less ability to protect the water and wildlife in our Great Lakes national parks, the GLRI has provided much-needed jobs for the Park Service and local communities. If we cut funding for the GLRI now, it will only be more costly in the long run. Tell your elected officials to support the GLRI because it protects our national parks. Let’s tell the presidential candidates how important our Great Lakes national parks are.
-Lynn McClure, Director of NPCA’s Midwest Regional Office
Watch this seven-minute video by the National Park Service on the importance of removing invasives at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore–one of the projects funded by GLRI.