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OpinionEditorial

National Park Service celebrates 100 years

If you’ve ever visited one of America’s national parks, you know why writer Wallace Stegner called them “the best idea we ever had.”

From the granite majesty of Yosemite and the geysers of Yellowstone, to the rugged coast of Acadia and the Fire Island National Seashore, our national park system is cherished by Americans. Nothing outraged people more during the 2013 federal shutdown than the closure of the national parks. Last year, the parks received a record 307 million visits.

On Thursday, the National Park Service turns 100. Join the celebration. Visit a park. Then confront reality: This magnificent system is facing threats that could affect whether our children’s children can enjoy them.

Grand Canyon

The National Park Service is chronically underfunded. It

The National Park Service is chronically underfunded. It has 12 percent fewer full-time workers than five years ago even as it continues to grow, and it has deferred $11.9 billion of needed maintenance. That includes 6,700 miles of trails that need major rehabilitation, and a $220 million project to replace the 50-year-old breakdown-prone pipeline that brings drinking water to the Grand Canyon. President Barack Obama asked for an additional $450 million in the upcoming fiscal year. Congress should say yes, before its neglect causes serious harm.

The Florida Everglades

Another challenge is climate change. Rising sea levels
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Another challenge is climate change. Rising sea levels are threatening the Everglades, the iconic plants in Joshua Tree National Park are dying in the worsening heat, and the glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting. These trends belie the absurd contention among some in Congress that science has not proved climate change is real and are convincing evidence that the country should ramp up its efforts to deal with it, not delay them.

Yellowstone National Park

Lurking is a growing movement in some Western
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lurking is a growing movement in some Western states to require the federal government to give millions of acres it owns to state and local governments to be opened, or used more intensively, for ranching, logging, mining and drilling -- never mind the environmental consequences on land our forebears designated for protection.

Let's remember what's at stake here. Our leaders began preserving our natural wonders long before the park service was created in 1916. Back in 1872, Yellowstone became the world's first national park. Its Roosevelt Arch -- named for Long Island's own Theodore Roosevelt, who laid its cornerstone and greatly expanded the system during his presidential tenure -- says simply: "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

Great Smoky National Park

Our park system is the embodiment of the
Photo Credit: Sam Guzik

Our park system is the embodiment of the democratic ideal, owned by everyone, open to all. It now includes more than 400 parks, monuments and historic sites, spanning more than 84 million acres. The focus is on nature's showstoppers like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. But the system also has grown with the nation and reflects its diversity, with sites dedicated to women's rights (Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, Washington), gay rights (Stonewall National Monument, Greenwich Village), civil rights (Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Maryland), farm workers (César E. Chávez National Monument, California), and immigration (yes, the Statue of Liberty).

There's a lot to toast on this centennial.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

There's a lot to toast on this centennial. And a lot of work to do after that to keep our parks vibrant and to make sure they remain our nation's best idea. - The editorial board

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