Sprawl's Long Arm Touching State Parks, Report Warns

 

Sprawl, long reviled for tearing the heart out of America's cities and gobbling up the greenery, is now the greatest threat to her state park system, according to a report card released Friday by a non-profit park conservancy in honor of the 84th birthday of the National Park Service.

The report ranks the "top ten most threatened" state park systems and calls for a greater federal and state commitment to funding land acquisition beyond the $40 million provided by the Clinton administration's Land Legacy Program in FY 2000. It urges officials to target private properties within and around state parks and purchase them from "willing sellers."

"America is coming to the parks and some of them are staying by building their homes, their hotels, and their new urbania using the parks as their backyard," wrote executive director Paul C. Pritchard of the National Park Trust in "The Crisis of Our Parks." , with 8,212 acres allegedly threatened by creeping development at Sweetwater Creek, Skidaway, Etowah Indian Mounds and Wormsloe State Parks, each within an hour's drive of either Savannah or booming Atlanta , topped NPT's list. Other states singled out in the report for having highly endangered parks are North Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, West Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Montana.

Although the report cites encroaching development as the top current threat to parks, it addresses related problems like industrial development and air and noise pollution. Swimmers at Indiana Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan's southeastern shore for example splash about while steel plants frame the horizons like bookends.

The NPT report is based on a survey of state park directors that asked them to list threatened sites and the sources of the danger. Some park directors question the interpretation of their responses. "I don't really see big things I'm going to wave a flag at," Nevada parks administrator Wayne Perock told the Las Vegas Review-Journal .

Other park directors and land use observers say that maintaining existing park facilities is the greater immediate concern. Meanwhile, several states like Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina have spent generously in recent years to expand and enhance park holdings.

Colorado , sixth on NPT's list, has acquired five new parks in the last two years, including a $16.8 million facility just outside of fast-growing Colorado Springs.

Colorado parks director Laurie Matthews told Stateline.org in June that deciding how to spend limited capital dollars is a challenge, even in prosperous times. "It's a hard choice. Do you go buy that next gorgeous piece of land or do you spend the money building the park?" she said.

Glen Alexander, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors, generally agrees with the report's findings.

"Sprawl is certainly one of the major problems confronting both the state and federal park systems. There is no doubt about that. State parks are trying to preserve islands of green that people in urban settings can use and recreate in," Alexander said.

The administration's FY2001 request includes $150 million for the Land Legacy Program, $72.5 million of which would be earmarked as grants for state wish lists. H.R. 701, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000 (CARA), would authorize an additional $350 million for conservation and revitalization projects like park land purchases, but faces a tough Senate battle when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this fall.

NPT's first annual report, released last August, focused on the "growing numbers of privately owned and unprotected" holdings in and around national parks. The group, founded in 1983, gave the federal government's performance on the 20 "most threatened" national parks in the last year a grade of D'.

 
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