U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced he will cosponsor bipartisan legislation to create a new source of funding for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other national parks across the country as part of the “Centennial Challenge” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park System in 2016.
“The Centennial Challenge could bring up to $4 million to the Smokies – the country’s most visited national park – and will go a long way toward improving park facilities, aiding conservation efforts, and helping build upon the excellent visitor services already offered. This 4th of July, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our country’s birthday than backing legislation that will aid efforts to preserve and celebrate our national parks, one of America’s greatest treasures.”
The legislation builds upon the President’s National Park Centennial Initiative, announced in 2006, which proposed an innovative federal Centennial Challenge matching fund that would be used to match private, philanthropic contributions for the benefit of our national parks between now and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park could receive up to $4 million as part of the initiative, including the following three projects totaling $340,000 that were awarded as part of the first round of Centennial Challenge projects announced on April 24th:
• $100,000 for planning, designing, fabricating and installing new exhibits for a 2,000-square foot museum space that is part of a new 6,492-square foot visitor center complex that is being planned for the Oconaluftee area.
• $200,000 for the preservation efforts in the Elkmont District – a national historic site of 74 cottages and outbuildings purchased in the 1920s and 1930s.
• $40,000 to develop a series of educational video podcasts to enhance park visitors’ experiences and improve park safety.
The National Park Centennial Fund Act (S. 2817), introduced by Senator Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), would provide up to $100 million per year in Fiscal Years 2008-2017 to the National Park System through a new conservation royalty from offshore oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill specifies that federal dollars made available from the Centennial Fund must supplement and not replace annual expenditures by the National Park Service. Funding would be used to complete special Centennial projects throughout National Park System. The list of projects would be developed by the Secretary of the Interior with input from the public and National Park Service employees, and submitted as part of the President’s annual budget for congressional review and approval. As part of that process, Alexander said that he would push to ensure that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park received appropriate recognition as the country’s most visited national park.
Alexander and Salazar previously collaborated to help pass legislation in 2006 that provided a 12.5 percent conservation royalty from offshore oil and gas exploration in a portion of the Gulf of Mexico for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This new legislation would supplement the existing conservation royalty for LWCF, which provides grants to states and localities to use for public outdoor recreation areas and facilities such as parks, greenways, and forests.
Alexander is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which oversees funding for the National Parks. In the 1980s, Alexander served as Chairman of the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors at the request of President Ronald Reagan.