I apologize if this is a duplication, but I don't remember seeing this on
Chair, Executive Council
Coalition of National Park Service Retirees
5625 North Wilmot Road
Tucson, AZ 85750-1216
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery for
The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne,
Secretary of the Interior
National Park Service Superintendents Summit
July 16, 2008
Director Bomar, thank you. All of you know Mary has grace, intelligence,
and a fine British accent. Mary became the National Park Service director
at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
I administered her oath of office where the United States independence from England. To have a former British subject become director
at Independence Hall, Mary apparently lives by the old adage. . . "if you can't beat them, join them."
For 17 years Mary was like you, a career employee wearing the gray and green. In selecting Mary to be the 17th Director of the National Park Service, President Bush sent a powerful message that any career Park Service employee can aspire to become Director. photo:Wikipedia
As Secretary, I have visited 53 national parks in nearly 20 states, three
territories and the District of Columbia. My visits are documented here in
my National Park Passport.
I became Secretary of the Interior, taking my oath of office in a national
park.the South Lawn of the White House.the first time that a Secretary has
taken the oath outdoors.
I welcomed new Americans as they took their oaths of citizenship at a
national park.Ellis Island.
I learned firsthand about the courage of the Little Rock Nine at a national
park.Little Rock Central High.
I was intrigued by grizzlies that were intrigued by the splashing fish I was
trying to catch in a national park . Katmai.
I handled a giant python in a national park.Everglades.
I fished and hiked with elementary school students in national
parks.Constitution Gardens, Great Smoky Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, Cabrillo and Crissy Field.
I was incarcerated in a national park.Alcatraz.
I was hoisted up in a bosun's chair in a national park.at San Francisco
But this summer there is a sight in our national parks that I appreciate
just as much.
It's the work being done by 3,000 new seasonal employees.
I trust that you, too, appreciate these new people. You know these
energetic, enthusiastic seasonal employees are what the National Park
We delivered. For two years, we have recommended to Congress the largest
operating budgets in National Park Service history. This fiscal year, we
have achieved the largest one-year operating increase ever. Our request for
fiscal year 2009 builds upon that.
There were those who said that operating budget increases were too
unglamorous for a Secretary and a Director to take on as their initiatives.
I think we have made operating increases quite in vogue and actually very
When it comes to national parks, I don't want sound bites. I want sound
That is why I recommended the largest operating budgets ever.
That is why I pushed for and won consensus on management policies to guide
our national parks.
That is why I am urging Congress to pass the $2 billion Centennial Challenge
legislation to get parks ready for their second century.
Mary, I am glad you called this Summit. I have yet to meet a naysayer among
those who manage our national parks. In fact at the opening reception last
night I was told over and over again that the Park Service should host more
One fact I know for sure is that national parks are not a Republican issue.
They are not a Democrat issue. They are an American issue.
Our currency confirms that national parks personify America.
A $100 bill depicts Independence Hall, a national park.
The $20 bill has the White House, a national park.
The $5 bill has the Lincoln Memorial, a national park.
Nine of the state quarters depict national parks.
Clearly, money is printed and minted to fund national parks. As Congress
comes to realize this, it will pass the Centennial Challenge legislation.
The truth is we Americans love our national parks. Yosemite and Yellowstone,
Grand Canyon and Grand Teton, Shiloh and Shenandoah and other parks are
sanctuaries for enjoyment, recreation, learning and personal renewal.
They preserve majestic natural wonders and spectacular back country hiking.
They are home to buffalo, moose, spawning salmon and migrating birds.
They help us keep watch over battlefields hallowed by red badges of courage.
Parks keep culture alive at sites dedicated to the performing arts, poetry
and music. Urban parks introduce inner city children to outdoor wonders.
Parks teach and inspire.
Parks are America the beautiful . . .
the cultural . . .
But what about the future? Are national parks part of America's future?
The answer is they must be. The challenge facing the National Park Service
is to keep pace with the modern needs of Americans while conserving what
needs to remain timeless.
America's population is growing, aging, becoming more diverse and more
urbanized. Urban sprawl has reduced the woods and fields where we played as
Children don't know the outdoors, spending too much time pecking away at
their blackberries instead of picking some blackberries.
surfing the web instead of surfing the waves.
webcasting instead of flycasting.
Young people spend 6-and-a-half hours a day using electronic media. Modern
technology and virtual experiences compete with personal experiences of our
nation's nature and history.
From my vantage point, national parks need to be woven even tighter into the
fabric and soul of America. And in the months ahead, we can do just that.
First, in the short term.
We are working with Congress to pass the Centennial Challenge legislation.
In April, with Mike Tollefson as your leader, and with great help from many
of you in this room, we announced, on the steps of the United States
Capitol, with Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress, the first 100
Centennial projects funded with $25 million in federal funds matched by $25
million in private funds.
It was a great event. It gave us bipartisan momentum toward investing an
additional $2 billion in national parks.And that's on top of the $1 billion
commitment for operations.
When this legislation was introduced, even our friends and advocates said we
would be lucky to get pledges of $20 million from the private sector in the
first year. They were right.
We didn't get $20 million in pledges. We got $301 million in
pledges.signed, sealed and delivered. Our friends and partners are ready to
go and I am confident Congress is getting ready to go as well.
Now, in the long term.
I have compiled lessons learned and advice for the future. I offer the
following to stimulate your thinking about what else should be added to this
First, the next President and First Lady should experience national parks.
This is a lesson First Lady Laura Bush teaches. Many of you have been with
Mrs. Bush as she has hiked and camped at Acadia, Glacier, Yellowstone,
Yosemite and other parks. She loves national parks. They refresh her
spirit and help her withstand the curious ways of Washington.
In turn, Mrs. Bush recruits volunteers, enrolls Junior Park rangers, raises
money for parks. She is a wonderful advocate for parks.
She even selected national parks as the theme for last year's White House
Christmas decorations. You all helped decorate the White House tree with
your hand painted ornaments, which became instant heirlooms of this nation.
National leaders need to learn from history. Abraham Lincoln, who presided
over the great Civil War, established Yosemite. Ulysses S. Grant, who led
the Reconstruction, established Yellowstone. Woodrow Wilson, during the
First World War, established the National Park Service.
I encourage all of you to continue to visit other national parks. This will
give you a better sense of what is the National Park Service. Let me
suggest that when you do this, simply go as a tourist, not as a fellow
superintendent. You all know how you treat visiting superintendents. You
will learn more if you go as a tourist.
I do this as Secretary. Just ask Peggy O'Dell, whose park is outside my
office window. She often gets calls from her staff saying, "He's back!"
But Peggy and I have made great improvements to America's Front Yard
My point is go with fresh eyes and come away with fresh ideas.
My second observation is that we need to continue investments in park
Especially now that we've proven just how glamorous operating increases are.
Third, all of us need to think about national parks in a global context.
I just returned from Tanzania, a beautiful country. We visited Ngorongo
Crater, a park filled with incredible wildlife. In part because of that
park, ecotourism has supplanted agriculture as Tanzania's number one
Increasingly, visitors from around the world are visiting these special
places. This trend will continue to affect the National Park Service. The
National Park Service has a brand known worldwide and is held up as a model
for the world.
This is why the State Department two weeks ago hosted dozens of visiting
ambassadors and diplomats at national parks, including Muir Woods. It was
there that we took a picture together at the very place that world leaders
gathered in 1945 at the conclusion of World War II to discuss peace. The
world admires and wants to duplicate our national park system.
Fourth, we must ensure the P in NPS stands for Parks, not Process.
The National Parks' Advisory Board described the Park Service as "a sleeping
giant - beloved and respected; but perhaps a bit too cautious, too resistant
to change, too reluctant to engage the challenges that must be addressed in
the 21st Century."
I have had my own experiences with a slow moving park bureaucracy, and so
have you. I encourage all of us to be open to innovative, creative and
Let me ask you this. Would we allow the construction of a 500-foot-tall
tower in a national park today? Would we issue a permit for someone to
significantly change the face of a mountain?
I've just described the Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore, now American icons.
A number of you in this room are having discussions about projects at your
parks .asking "can we move forward, can we resolve differences, can we form
partnerships?" I encourage you to keep asking and looking for solutions.
There may well be future icons to be established.
We must not simply be inheritors from our ancestors, but benefactors to our
descendents. There were bold thinkers before us, and there are bold
thinkers among us.
Fifth, we must all realize the workforce of the National Park Service is
More than 35% of National Park Service employees will be eligible to retire
in the next four years. The silver lining of losing these seasoned
professionals is the opportunity to train up a new generation of leaders. I
look forward to having lunch today with our newest superintendents.
Sixth, we must continue to ignite a new era of philanthropy.
That is the heart of the Centennial Challenge. In 2005, charitable giving
in the United States exceeded $260 billion. The National Park Service was
the recipient of just $27 million of that - a miniscule percentage. We can
and should do better. A National Park Service needs to continue the legacy
that attracted the Rockefellers, the Mellons and others to give major gifts.
Seventh, we must make effective, strategic use of Ken Burns and Dayton
Duncan's documentary about National Parks.
It will be a 12-hour public television series, similar to their series on
the Civil War, World War II and baseball - all of which transfixed the
nation. I attended a screening of their documentary. It is spectacular.
You will meet Dayton Duncan tomorrow and screen the documentary yourselves.
I guarantee millions of Americans will watch and be inspired. Both
individually and collectively, you superintendents need to prepare for the
transforming effect this documentary will have on America.
Finally, we must implement your goals contained in this report: The Future
of America's National Parks.
In preparing this report, I asked Mary and her leadership team to develop
goals to guide national parks into their second century. They developed a
set of goals, and brought them to me.
I did not think they were bold enough. So I met with the leadership team at
Drury's Hotel in Washington. Several of you were there . . . Dan Wenk, Sue
Masica, Jon Jarvis, Joe Lawler, Mike Snyder, Ernie Quintana.
There is a time to applaud and a time to prod. I prodded.
I said, "with all due respect, you can do better."
I think it was Jon Jarvis who said. "We were trying to write goals that
would clear OMB." And I said "Forget OMB. Write goals national parks
When they realized they truly were allowed to be bold and visionary, it was
a great moment for all of us.
America's goals are in this report:
For America, the 21st-century National Park Service will be energized to
preserve parks and welcome visitors.
For America, stewardship and science will guide decisions.
For America, strategic acquisitions will protect landscapes.
For America, parks will be known as our best classrooms.
For America, hallowed battlefields will be preserved.
For America, majestic species that symbolize this nation will thrive in
their native habitats.
For America, a new era of private-public partnerships will bring greater
excellence to parks.
For America, volunteerism will be a powerful enhancement to our parks.
For America, the latest information technology will captivate young people
with the national park story.
For America, children will reconnect to the outdoors and lead healthier
For America, a new generation of conservationists will convey parks
unimpaired to the next generation.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am firm in the conviction that the golden years for
national parks have not passed but lie ahead.
Thank you for what you do. Thank you for being the stewards of America the
Beautiful, and may God Bless America the Beautiful.