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Mission of the National Park Service

On Examining the Spending Priorities and Mission of the National Park Service in the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request:

Today we meet to review the administration of the National Park Service and to examine the President’s 2016 Budget request. I thank Director Jarvis for being here today.

Our National Parks are a uniquely American institution. The Norman and Plantagenet kings of old set aside vast tracts of land as their exclusive province, in which only a select few with their blessing could enjoy. The National Parks are the very opposite of that. In America, we have set aside the most beautiful land in the nation entirely of, by and for the people.

The Organic Act of 1916 that created the National Park Service further underscored that its purpose was not to shut off and close these natural wonders – but rather to open them for the use and enjoyment of the general public, in the words of the act: “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same.”

In the view of these visionaries, preserving these resources for future generations did not mean closing them to the current generation.

On the contrary, pioneers of the National Park Service like John Muir wanted people to come to the parks to enjoy themselves, knowing that they would go away with fond memories, happy experiences, resolved to return again and again.

“We saw another party of tourists today.” John Muir wrote in his diary one day in Yosemite Valley. “Somehow most of these travelers seem to care but little for the glorious objects around them, though enough to spend time and money and endure long rides to see the famous Valley. And when they are fairly within the mighty walls of the temple and hear the psalms of the falls, they will forget themselves and become devout. Blessed indeed would be every pilgrim in these holy mountains…The valley is full of people, but they do not annoy me.”

As steward of that vision, Congress must ensure our national parks are well maintained, available for every form of outdoor recreation traditional to the parks and welcoming of the public.

Unfortunately, our national parks face multiple challenges including a huge maintenance backlog of over $11 billion and problems attracting the ‘next generation’ of park visitors. At the heart of these problems is a clash of visions: the vision of the founders of the National Park System – that the parks exist for the enjoyment of the public – and a new exclusionary policy that can best be described as “look, but don’t touch.”

That policy is manifest in a variety of new edicts, from significantly limiting public access, to banning bottled water in parks, and even refusing to allow a search and recovery mission across park boundaries. In Yosemite Valley, plans continue to eliminate the fabled Curry Village Ice Skating Rink, and to reduce or eliminate many recreational opportunities including biking and equestrian activities.

We are told that visits to the National Parks are up from their peak in 1987, but this is an illusion created by visits to the new World War II memorial and the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial.

In fact, in-park concessioner lodging is down by 330,000 persons annually, or about 10 percent. RV camper overnight stays are down by almost two million camper nights – about 50 percent. Tent campers are down by 705,000 overnights, about 20 percent.

A reasonable person might conclude that a federal agency with a deferred maintenance backlog of $11 billion should first take care of the land it currently administers before acquiring new land. Yet, the President’s Budget proposes additional land acquisitions at a cost of nearly $300 million.

Next year we will celebrate the National Park Service Centennial. I can’t think of a better way to do so than to restore the vision of the founders of the National Park Service. Our national parks should be open to the public for many different uses—hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting, skating, camping, staying in an historic lodge, or simply a drive through the park. We must allow all of these uses and ensure visitors’ experiences are memorable and pleasant.

This Committee is ready to do its part. If solutions to these problems require Congress amending laws, by all means, let’s get started. I hope to work with you, Director Jarvis, on this endeavor.

Opening Statement of Chairman Tom McClintock (CA-04) at the House Committee on Natural Resources in the Subcommittee on Federal Lands.