Preserving National Parks: It’s Not Just Popular, It’s Patriotic
By Jennifer Errick, Editor of Online Communications at the National Parks Conservation Association
Note: This is NPCA’s third and final story in our series on the upcoming presidential election. You can sign NPCA’s petition urging the candidates to pledge their support for national parks.
By day, I work as an editor for NPCA on issues that affect our national parks. Then, when I have a few vacation days lined up, I often find myself heading… you guessed it, to a national park.
Earlier this month, I had a long weekend with nothing planned, so I convinced my husband to take a road trip with me to Antietam National Battlefield in western Maryland, the site of one of the bloodiest single days on American soil. By chance, we showed up at the visitor center just as a Park Ranger was about to give a presentation, and we sat down for an insightful overview of the history of the Civil War engagements commemorated around us, how the terrain played a critical role in the warfare, strategies Union and Confederate soldiers used, and how the battle led President Lincoln to issue a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation the following day. The ranger stood in front of several large windows overlooking battlegrounds to the north, east, and south of us, bringing those fields to life with stories. After the presentation, my husband and I spent four whole hours driving and hiking around the quiet farmland, mesmerized by the cornfields and country roads steeped in so much history.
My husband was so moved by the visit that he suggested we spend the next day at Gettysburg. Why? A day at a national park is more than just a hike or a history lesson for us. It’s a transformative experience.
The truth is, I’m far from alone: Americans love national parks. NPCA commissioned a poll this past June and found overwhelming support across the political spectrum for preserving these inspirational public lands. Some of the major findings:
- A whopping 95 percent of voters see “protecting and supporting the national parks” as an appropriate role for the federal government.
- 92 percent of voters think that federal spending on national parks should be maintained or increased.
- Nearly 90 percent of voters think that political candidates who prioritize national parks are seen as forward-looking and patriotic.
- 81 percent of voters report having visited a national park at some point in their lives, and nearly nine in 10 say they are interested in visiting in the future.
- Few voters (6 percent) think national parks are in good shape today, while many more (80 percent) express concern that funding shortages are damaging national parks and marring visitors’ experiences.
- 77 percent of voters say it is important for the next president to ensure that parks are fully restored.
Given this broad public sentiment—and the fact that national parks cost just one-fourteenth of one percent of the federal budget—you might think that funding the National Park Service would be a no-brainer in Washington. Yet both major presidential candidates have endorsed large cuts to federal spending. To make things worse, Congress is currently on a destructive course toward a “sequester”—massive, across-the-board spending cuts slated for January that would severely affect the ability to keep national parks staffed and open. Those amazing Park Rangers that bring history to life? Many of their jobs could be in danger, and many of the natural and historical wonders they protect could face widespread closures. We might not expect our elected officials to be national park nerds, but shouldn’t their priorities reflect the values of the people they serve?
If you’re one of the 95 percent of Americans who feels our government should preserve these irreplaceable public lands, please tell the candidates to support our national parks. Sign NPCA’s petition to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney letting them know we need a leader who will prioritize our national heritage. It’s not just popular—it’s patriotic.
Other stories in this series
- Putting National Parks into the Debates: Questions for Obama and Romney (October 9, 2012)
- Why This Election Matters for National Parks (October 3, 2012)