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  • under-funding may threaten national parks

    Posted on Tuesday, November 18 @ 22:11:10 PST
    Under-funding may threaten national parks

    Businesses owners depending on the parks worry livelihoods in danger

    By Nikki Cobb

    MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE First opened in 1905, the Nipton Trading Post and Hotel Nipton bed-and-breakfast originally served cattle ranchers, miners and railroad crews in the tiny whistle-stop hamlet two miles from the southern Nevada border.

    But times changed.

    Individual mining prospectors disappeared, replaced by huge corporate operations in more hospitable locales.

    Same with the ranchers. And trains no longer had dozen-man crews that needed a place to buy supplies and, perhaps, spend the night.

    Today, though, the trading post is as busy as ever, and it's not uncommon for all of its five bedrooms to be occupied. The clientele has changed you're as likely to hear Japanese or Swedish spoken among the guests as English.

    Nipton Trading Post and bed-and-breakfast owner Gerald Freeman says he's able to stay in business solely because of his location, on the north side of Mojave National Preserve.

    He serves tourists not only visiting the preserve, but also travelers needing a break on the drive from the Grand Canyon to Death Valley. He said most of his customers are urban dwellers trying to get away from city hassles.

    Freeman said it's the national parks that fund his livelihood, but he worries that under-funding for the parks and industrial development such as an international airport planned just 15 miles from Nipton will endanger the wild places.

    "The under-funding is a big problem," he said. "The state of California budgetary crisis means that a lot of the parks' responsibilities, a lot of services, just don't have enough money to get done."

    A report by the National Parks Conservation Association found that visitors to California's 23 national parks contribute more than $1 billion annually to state and local economies.

    The study measured spending on hotels and lodges, campground fees, restaurants, gas, groceries, souvenirs and other expenses related to visiting the parks, but did not include park admission fees.

    According to a 2002 California Lodging Forecast by Ernst & Young LLP, California is the most-visited state in America. Travel and tourism expenditures account for approximately 6 percent of California's gross state product.

    "These places are the soul of America, and the heart of many local economies," said NPCA Pacific Regional Director Courtney Cuff.

    The federal government budgeted $1.6 billion this year for operating expenses, including staffing, species monitoring, trail maintenance and educational programs at parks nationwide, according to the Park Service.

    The Park Service had sought an additional $170 million, but a bill President Bush signed this month included just a $55 million increase. That increase doesn't even cover the cost of inflation and cost-of-living pay increases for the park, Cuff said.

    "There aren't enough rangers to protect natural and cultural resources, fewer programs for park visitors, inadequate maintenance," said NPCA spokesman Howard Gross. "This is our national heritage, and we're not taking care of it like we should."

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