Peter Dykstra:  Spoiling “America’s Best Idea”
Cape Cod National Seashore. (Credit: Jeff/flickr)

Peter Dykstra: Spoiling “America’s Best Idea”

Cape Cod is a special place for me, and for my environmental awakening.


Like so many special places, the Cape is under constant threat from its own popularity. Second homes, vacation rentals, and all of the tawdry elements of an American vacation paradise began to take over the Cape in the mid-twentieth century.

Parts of Cape Cod began to look like a hybrid of a seaside suburb and the Jersey Shore.

The Cape, or at least part of it, had a savior. John F. Kennedy, the dashing young Senator whose dynastic family had an estate at Hyannis Port, championed the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Despite some furious opposition from landholders and business interests, the Seashore was signed into law in August 1961 by President Kennedy. The 43,000 acres of the Seashore have dodged suburbanization, and are still relatively pristine.

Credit: Anacostia Trails Heritage Area/flickr

Today's National Park System includes legacy gems like Yellowstone and Yosemite; monuments like the Statue of Liberty, and historic sites like Thomas Edison's labs. They encompass what the great documentarian Ken Burns called "America's best idea."

It's a best idea that's been starved for years, and according to a report released this past summer, it's not getting any better. Estimates of "deferred maintenance" at NPS facilities have held steady at between $11 billion and $12 billion yearly for the past decade – roughly half for paved roads and parking lots, and the rest for buildings, campgrounds, trails, visitor centers, and more.

Compare those numbers of neglect to the Park Service's calculation of its economic benefits to communities surrounding its parks, seashores, and monuments: Roughly $40 billion annually.

The Grand Canyon alone is a nearly billion-dollar asset to northern Arizona communities and tribes. Another analysis, from Harvard and Colorado State University researchers, sets the total parks benefit at $100 billion.

NPS facilities greeted an estimated 330 million visitors in 2018 – virtually a one-for-one ratio to the U.S. population.

PBS PREVIEWS: NATIONAL PARKS | Extended Preview | PBS

The classic era of parks creation was a century ago. Many of the assets at Yosemite, the Great Smokies, and other venerable parks are showing their age. Similarly, maintenance funds haven't grown as newly-created parks were added.

A pending bill with bipartisan congressional support could put a dent in the maintenance crisis: The Senate's Restore Our Parks Act and its counterpart bill in the House would add up to $6.5 billion over five years to fix the parks.

To be clear, neglecting national parks and monuments is not a Trump Administration innovation. In 1999 under the Clinton Administration, parks maintenance funding was $2.2 billion. The 2018 budget barely kept up with inflation at $2.5 billion. According to the Harvard/Colorado State analysis, those funds were stretched to accommodate 26 new Park units and National Monuments with a Park Service workforce reduced by 7 percent.

This is not to say the current administration hasn't been active. At the behest of mining interests, they've taken substantial slices out of two Utah National Monuments, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears.

If you need further convincing that the bipartisan neglect of our National Parks is a bad idea, watch or read just a few minutes of the sprawling Ken Burns documentary, and you'll see the risk of turning "America's Best Idea" into a bad idea.

The bipartisan neglect of our National Parks

Study: Drilling waste on Pennsylvania roads bad for health, land

A long-anticipated health study commissioned by Pennsylvania environmental officials examined the practice of spreading wastewater from conventional gas– and oil-drilling on thousands of miles of rural dirt roads in the state.

Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

Oregon residents depend on a state program that trucks in water
Joe/Flickr

As wells run dry, Oregon residents depend on a state program that trucks in water

The Department of Human Services said 200 residential wells in southern Oregon have run dry and the number could double within the year

Invisible and toxic in New Mexico

Pollution from oil and gas facilities can harm the health of those who live near them. That's disproportionately Indigenous people in NM, a new map shows.
Offshore wind farms could reduce Atlantic City’s surfclam fishery
Robert Shea/Flickr

Offshore wind farms could reduce Atlantic City’s surfclam fishery revenue up to 25%, Rutgers study suggests

The Atlantic surfclam industry generates about $30 million in yearly revenue. But a new study shows offshore wind development planned for the Jersey coast could cut that income up to 25%.
SCOTUS EPA ruling Pennsylvania
Thomas/Flickr

SCOTUS EPA ruling a set-back for climate regulations, but Pennsylvania retains power to set limits, lawyers say

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling curbs the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s not likely to have a significant impact in Pennsylvania.
Climate change targets achievable by keeping global emissions to COVID levels, scientists say
www.abc.net.au

Climate change targets achievable by keeping global emissions to COVID levels, scientists say

Between 2019 and 2020, global CO2 emissions experienced the greatest year-on-year drop in recorded history. Researchers say we have to cut emissions by that much every year to keep climate change within safe boundaries.
South Africa farming climate change
Farm nursery in Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Anaya Katlego/Unsplash)

Covid to climate change leave Africans hungry and unhealthy

The economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with conflict and climate shocks, is driving hunger to unprecedented levels, with African leaders warning it’s raising health risks and cutting access to care.
From our Newsroom
environmental injustice

Centering biodiversity and social justice in overhauling the global food system

“The food system is the single largest economic sector causing the transgressing of planetary boundaries.”

Global Warming: Why the problem is worse – and solutions simpler – than you thought

Global Warming: Why the problem is worse – and solutions simpler – than you thought

Noted ecologist John Harte offers a fresh take on the dire topic of climate change.

Colorado fracking

Colorado is the first state to ban PFAS in oil and gas extraction

The toxic “forever chemicals” are used in fracking wells across the country.

gun control

Peter Dykstra: Gun and climate change delusions

Millions here suffer from twin hallucinations: Guns don’t cause our mass shootings, and the climate isn’t changing.

Op-ed: An engine for social justice leads the way to change

Engine for social justice leads to change

Virginia Organizing's 27-year history as a role model for The Daily Climate

Using comedy to combat climate change

Using comedy to combat climate change

The Climate Comedy Cohort aims to help comedians infuse climate activism into their creative work.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.