Minnesota’s National Park Areas Under Threat from Underfunding

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Senior Director, Clean Water for America Campaign and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Environment Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN – A new report, The Best of America: Under Threat from Underfunding released today by Environment Minnesota, shows that visitorship to various National Parks is on the rise. But even as most National Parks draw more and more visitors, they could face budget cuts in the coming year- leaving our treasured places with fewer resources for maintenance, upkeep and stewardship. 

“Last year, more visitors went to Minnesota’s National Park sites like Voyageurs and the National Scenic Rivers to explore, hike, and canoe,” said Samantha Chadwick, the Preservation Advocate with Environment Minnesota, a state wide, citizen-based environmental organization. “But as Minnesotans’ appreciation and discovery of our great National parks sites grows, these great places could face the continued threat of underfunding.”

There are seven National Park Service sites in Minnesota, two of which are located within the Twin Cities Metro area. The Mississippi River and Recreation Area is a National Park site located in St. Paul, and provides the community with bike trails and canoe guides, while also participating in programs like Outward Bound, which connects youth from cities to the great outdoors.

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway contains 255 miles of protected riverway including the St Croix and Namekagon Rivers. The Riverway offers great opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and fishing, as well as sailing, boating, and swimming. The park drew almost 8% more visitors in 2009, and is slated for a budget cut.

“National Park assets like the St. Croix Scenic Riverway provide a unique opportunity for Minnesotans to enjoy outstanding scenery and recreation within a short drive of the Twin Cities,” said Margaret Levin, State Director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. “Full funding is crucial for continued stewardship of this irreplaceable resource, which has recently been cited as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers.”

Voyageurs National Park is the nation’s premier water-based National Park, where visitors take to the water to experience lakes, islands, and scenic shorelines. The park saw an up tick in visitation in 2009. Voyageurs relies on its operating budget to hire park rangers, for programs like guided canoe and riverboat tours, and to maintain general facilities and trails, essential services that could face cutbacks if funding is decreased in the coming year.
Grand Portage National Monument has so far experienced a huge increase of visitors in 2010. This unique park is the only in the country where the National Park Service shares management with a native tribe– in this case with the Grand Portage Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

The park has a reputation for highly personalized interpretation, and recently opened a new Heritage Center. Building the new center was possible because of extra construction dollars the park received to supplement federal park monies. Incidentally, construction dollars are one of the funds being dramatically reduced in the FY11 budget. Last year, the park stopped charging admission. These factors, along with the national trend toward affordable vacationing in national parks, have probably all contributed to Grand Portage’s visitor increase. 2010 visitor numbers so far are 53% higher than last year, a bump of about 40,000 people.

“The National Parks are the best and last refuges of our American heritage.  Yet we must ask whether each generation will know and accept less of these resources. Both the cultural and natural resources continue to deteriorate from a variety of pressures and threats,” commented Dr. Mark Peterson, Executive Director, Audubon Minnesota.

“Now is the time the National Parks System should be best protected,” said Chadwick. “Instead, National Park sites in Minnesota face painful cuts, which could force parks keepers to delay maintenance, hire fewer rangers or cut back on programs.”

The threats facing Minnesota’s National Parks are also being seen around the country. Environment Minnesota’s report reveals that nationwide, two-thirds of national parks, including parks in nearly every state, saw visitorship climb. However, almost three-quarters of parks that saw this increase in visitors last year face a budget cut in the coming year.   

In addition to operations and maintenance funding, national parks are threatened by overdevelopment and pollution on lands adjacent to or within its boundaries. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established to give parks grants for land acquisition as privately-held parcels of land near the park come up for sale. Unfortunately, many parks never receive these funds. There are still many private landholdings within Voyageurs National Park and Minnesota park advocates have called for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“Just like Voyageurs, Grand Portage, and our National Scenic Riverways, parks throughout America are becoming more popular destinations. Parks still offer affordable family vacations and are ideal places for people of all ages to explore the great outdoors,” said Chadwick. “We need to give our parks the resources to ensure they are just as majestic in 2999 as they were in 2009.

Environment Minnesota urged the Obama administration to prioritize national park preservation in their America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. They also called on Senators Franken and Klobuchar to secure funding for the National Parks Service.
 “The Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative aims to protect America’s greatest places and reconnect Americans with the outdoors.

We thank Senators Klobuchar and Franken for their commitment to National Parks, and now is the time to persuade their colleagues to fulfill the promise of America’s National Parks,” said Chadwick. “We urge our leaders to fully fund the National Park Service budget and permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund so we can enjoy what is truly the best of Minnesota for generations to come.”

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Tim Rains / NPS | Public Domain

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