KNOXVILLE, Tennessee - February 22 - Senator Lamar Alexander today joined the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), community leaders, and park supporters at a planning session, “From Park Values to Centennial Vision: Building a Community that Cares for Our National Parks into the Next Century,” to discuss the value of Great Smoky Mountains and other national parks to the community, the threats facing parks, and actions needed to ensure that park visitors can enjoy these special places unimpaired for future generations.
“As we prepare for the centennial celebration of the National Park System, we need to make national parks a national priority,” said NPCA Senior Regional Director Don Barger. “Actions taken today as a community will determine what we celebrate in 2016.”
Prior to the meeting, participants were asked to complete an online survey to set the stage for a group discussion about the community values of national parks and the actions needed to protect them into the next century. Following the meeting, survey results and group discussions will be complied into a white paper, which will be used to launch a national discussion about park protection during the 75th anniversary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park next year.
“The President's centennial initiative is in the best tradition of our entrepreneurial country. He has proposed spending $1 billion extra for the national parks centennial and challenged the communities of America to use their creativity to match it. We are meeting in Knoxville today to do our part to match or exceed his boldness and creativity to find new ways to help the Great Smokies, the nation's most visited national park,” said Alexander.
Participants at the meeting discussed park values and actions needed to ensure the future preservation of national parks in Tennessee. One meeting participant said in the survey that “national parks preserve the very sites where our cultural heritage unfolded – making our nation’s history tangible and accessible to all Americans.” Participants stressed the importance of preserving the natural landscapes, wildlife, plants, and diversity found in our national parks, for the future enjoyment of park visitors.
In early February, President Bush requested an unprecedented $258 million increase for the operations budget of the National Park System, including a $1.9 million operating increase for the Great Smoky Mountains. His request jumpstarts the Administration’s National Park Centennial Challenge, an initiative to ensure national parks are restored by their 100th birthday in 2016.
NPCA is advocating that Congress approve the operating budget request. Last week, in a first-ever show of national support, more than 100 prominent Americans, including former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, sent a letter to Congress seeking increased funds to restore America’s national parks. To learn more, visit: www.npca.org/nationalpriority. To learn about NPCA’s comprehensive action plan, 5 Ways America Can Fix Our National Parks, visit: www.npca.org/fixourparks.