U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander today praised President Bush’s National Parks Centennial Initiative at a hearing of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, telling Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that: “I’d give the President an A+ for the Centennial Initiative, I’d give you an A+ for being bold enough to suggest it in a time of fiscal tightness, another A+ for your management policies to preserve conservation as the primary mission of the national parks, and I’d give you at least a pat on the back for your picking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park as your first visit on your ‘listening tour’.”
“However, as much as we appreciate the extra funds,” Alexander added, he questioned the division of funds under the initiative. “The Great Smoky Mountain National Park hosts more visitors per year than any other - nearly ten million. That’s more than twice the levels of Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, and more than three times that of Yellowstone. So why does it appear that those other parks are slated for a larger increase in dollars and by percentage than the Smokies? There may be a reasonable explanation, but I’d like to know what it is.”
According to USA Today, Yosemite National Park would receive an increase of $2.5 million, Yellowstone $2.4 million, and the Grand Canyon $1.6 million, while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would receive an increase of $1.5 million.
Overall, under the initiative, Tennessee’s 10 national park units would receive a $4.3 million increase over 2007 requested funding levels in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, breaking down as follows:
· Andrew Johnson National Historic Site - $33,000.
· Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area - $575,000.
· Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park - $480,000.
· Fort Donelson National Battlefield - $45,000.
· Great Smoky Mountains National Park - $1.5 million.
· Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail - $2,000.
· Natchez Trace Parkway/Brices Crossroads/Tupelo National Battlefield - $769,000.
· Obed Wild & Scenic River - $33,000.
· Shiloh National Military Park - $610,000.
· Stones River National Battlefield - $283,000.
To celebrate the 100th year of the National Park system in 2016, Bush’s Centennial Initiative would, over ten years, add $100 million a year for base operating funds, and up to another $100 million a year in federal matching funds to attract another $100 million from the private sector.
Kempthorne visited Gatlinburg on March 13, along with National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, to kick off his “listening tour” to hear firsthand the needs of the national parks.