The classic comment in the movie All the Presidents Men was uttered by 'Deep Throat' who said, "Follow the money." A number of stories have fallen into my lap in the past week and I need help making sense of it all. The parks have been underfunded for years. Last year President Bush announced a budget with a matching fund program that could pour an additional $3 billion bucks into the park coffers over a ten year span. Last week I read an article in the Ashland Daily Press about a new historic conservancy group forming in the Apostle Islands which seems to be in an old fashioned pissing match with the park administration. I also read an article about a disabled rights group in San Francisco that's filed a class action suit against the National Park Service for inadequate access to the facilities at Golden Gate National Park. Finally, a group of concerned kayakers, led by CASKA in Chicago are collecting funds to put bear boxes on more of the Apostle Islands that don't currently have them. The Friends of the Apostle Islands Nat'l Lakeshore have offered matching fund up to $500 per box in a dedicated bear box fund. (OK, OK, I promise; no more hot links for the rest of the post!).
Soooo.....lets see. The chronically underfunded parks seem to have a few more bucks coming in and the administration plan seems to be to encourage more private funding and matching fund setups. Friends groups and special interests seem to be prepared to pitch in. It would be interesting to see the plan that is or isn't in place to administer and account for the money that is donated for specific purposes. A more important question is whether or not special interests are a good or a bad thing. Special interests by their very definition have focused and specific interests. When I kayak to Outer Island I have a special interest in sticking my food in a nice safe bear box in the campsite rather than trudging into the woods with my mildly intoxicated cronies at dusk, looking for a suitable tree to pitch a rock into with a rope attached and hoping it doesn't come back down on someones head. Wilderness advocates on the other hand, might be dead set against a bear box, or a picnic table, or any man made structures and want to offer earmarked funds to have them eradicated. This of course would put them in direct conflict with the newly formed Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy, who wants to preserve the brownstone quarries, fish camps, lumber camps, and other evidence of the thousands of years of human habitation in the Apostles. And should there be wheelchair access to said facilities? Wilderness advocates might well argue no. They managed to get all the old traditional portage rests torn down in the BWCA, they wouldn't want a paved, graded path. Historic preservationists might say that it compromises historic integrity. The key paragraph in the Ashland Daily Press article on the NPS/Historic Conservancy urination contest was, "In order for the conservancy or any other group to provide assistance — either financially or through materials and labor — to the Park Service, a formal agreement must be signed. Apostle Islands currently has two agreements with the Friends of the Apostle Islands and the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation". In a nutshell, you can't give em money unless you are 'approved'. How do you get approved? Who is involved? Certainly banks of government legal types, administrators, bureaucrats and such. And how much does personal bias, political bias, and personality play into the mix? If the park superintendent is a kayaker or maybe a amateur cigarette boat racer does that subtly color the decision?
Sorry folks, I have no answers whatsoever today. I just want to know roughly how it works and how specific special interests are weighed and dealt with. Any insight from readers would be greatly appreciated. And I'd also really like to know what a bear box actually costs. We've received numbers from $500 to $1200 from various folks. When I buy something I really like to take a peek at the price tag first. I purchased a helmet at Canoecopia this year. I hope that I'll be able to use it for surfing and not have to bring it on tours for bear box installation safety. I really like the matching funds concept. I sincerely hope the administration of the National Park Service can make it work.