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Health, Science & Environment

National Parks: An Enduring Value Despite Feds' Critics

Zion National Park is one of thirteen national park units in Utah -- and part of the debate about the federal government's ability to manage public lands sensibly.

Utah is home to five parks, seven national monuments and a national historic site. They’re part of the national park system’s centennial celebration this week even as a debate continues about federal management of public lands.

John Freemuth, a professor of public policy at Boise State University, worked for a time as a ranger at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southeastern Utah. He says it’s a good time to revel in America’s National Parks.

“This is the classic example of a public good that is accessible to all of us,” he says.  “To most of us, they’re a quintessential example of what government ought to be doing.”

In an opinion piece Thursday, Freemuth and a colleague argue that the parks remain wildly popular. They cite one study showing that Americans value the parks so much, they’d pay $92 billion dollars a year to keep the park system intact.

He said in an interview that it’s an enduring value despite the charges of lands grabs and takeovers lodged by contemporary Sagebrush Rebels throughout the West. Freemuth says the park system is evolving.

“The Park Service is becoming not just the manager of these wonderful, spectacular areas,” he says. “But they’re becoming the keepers of America, and that means our history, our culture.”

Freemuth also says the national parks can learn something from state parks, which responded to the recession with some smart ideas.

Meanwhile, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop issued a statement Thursday on the parks’ centennial. He said, to improve these lands for future generations,  park managers must do better in dealing with a $12 billion dollar maintenance backlog and in expanding visitor access.

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