Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Federal Lands Subcommittee Hearing on Next Century Parks

July 23, 2015

Congressman McClintock is the Chairman of the Federal Lands Subcommittee.  The subcommittee held a hearing on the next century and our national parks on July 23rd, 2015. Congressman McClintock delivered the following opening statement at the hearing:

Chairman’s Opening Statement
Federal Lands Subcommittee Hearing on Next Century Parks
July 23, 2015

Today, the Federal Lands Subcommittee meets to hear testimony on new and innovative ideas for our national parks. 

Next year we will celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service and the uniquely American notion that our most beautiful and historic land should be set aside for the use and enjoyment of the people of the United States.  In the words of the Organic Act of 1916,  “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 the visionary founders, preserving these resources for future generations did not mean closing them to the current generation. 

Yet, as we approach the centennial, there are disturbing trends in public visits.  We are told they are at an all-time high, but this is an illusion created by new memorials in Washington D.C.  

In fact, from all-time highs, in-park concessioner lodging is down by 722,000 persons annually, or about 17 percent.  Tent campers are down by 1.37 million overnights, about 26 percent. The decline in visitation has been particularly high among young people.  Recent reports indicate that visits to parks by those 15 and younger fell by 50% in the last decade.   Perhaps most telling, RV camper overnight stays are down by 2.6 million camper nights – about 56 percent, despite the fact that RV ownership and RV stays at private campgrounds has grown dramatically.  

We’re told this is because of lack of funding.  But in fact, the National Park Service budget has increased from $2.67 billion in 2007 – at the height of the economy -- to $3.12 billion in 2015 – an increase of nearly 17 percent. 

Perhaps a more likely explanation rests in recent NPS priorities, that have produced a growing maintenance backlog on existing National Park lands while funds are diverted to acquiring still more lands.  At a hearing before this sub-committee in March, Director Jarvis admitted that he would choose maintenance over acquisition if that were the choice.  

This subcommittee is especially concerned over policies that are actively removing traditional tourist amenities from our national parks.  

Directives at Grand Canyon and other national parks now ban the sale of bottled water.  Visitors are told to bring their own bottles or do without.  

Two years ago, the National Park Service proposed removing long-standing tourist facilities from Yosemite Valley, including bicycle and raft rentals, snack facilities, gift shops, horseback riding rentals, the iconic ice-skating rink at Curry Village, the art center, the grocery store, swimming pools, and even the valley’s landmark and historic stone bridges.  Their current plan locks in a 30 percent reduction in campsites and lodging compared to historic highs, including loss of prime sites close to the river.  Funds appropriated by Congress to restore campsite levels after the 1997 flood were not spent as Congress instructed.  

And what we’re learning is, tourists don’t go where they’re not welcomed.

I can’t think of a better way to approach the next century of our National Park Service than to restore the vision of its founders.  Our national parks should be open to the public for all recreational pursuits —hiking, biking, fishing, snowmobiling, horseback riding, skiing, rafting, skating, RVing, camping, staying in an historic lodge – these are the priceless memories our parks are there to create for succeeding generations of Americans.  

In this next century of our national parks, let us strive to restore the public’s enjoyment of them.  Let us focus our resources on restoring our deteriorating facilities.  Let us look for new and innovative ways to provide the amenities that maximize the public’s enjoyment of these lands.    

We are fortunate to have with us today a panel of witnesses whose experience and expertise is doing precisely that: providing the myriad of pleasant pursuits on the public lands that maximize the public’s use and enjoyment of these lands set aside in their name.  After all, that is the purpose explicitly stated in the Organic Act of 2016 the centennial of which we will celebrate next year.  

Our witnesses today have come to share ways that we can improve park management, increase visitation, and unleash the private sector to enhance guest services and promote our parks. I thank each of them for their willingness to testify before this subcommittee today and for their dedication to ensuring that our national parks are on a path toward greater sustainability. 

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