Friday, February 09, 2007

President Bush offers largest increase ever in parks operations funding

President appeared Wednesday at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park

For those who love the outdoors and the National Park system, President George W. Bush's appearance Wednesday at Big Meadows was a good thing indeed.

I would love to have been there.

On a day when it was undecided whether the event would occur because of snowfall the night before, the President's appearance went as scheduled. He held a press conference at Harry Byrd Visitor Center, visited with park employees, and participated in a round table discussion about his 2008 budget that benefits the National Park System to the tune of $2.4 billion -- the largest increase ever for park operations funding.

Shenandoah National Park is slated to receive an increase of nearly $2 million over 2006 levels for park operations. That money will help hire additional seasonal employees and fund construction to restore scenic overlooks along Skyline Drive.

The 100th anniversary of the National Park System will be in 2016.

I'm a little disappointed the mainstream media and environmental types haven't picked up more on this story. For a President that they love to hate, this is something he is doing that they should be crowing about. Where were the newspaper headlines ballyhooing, "Largest increase ever in National Park spending"? Where were the admissions that the President really does care about the environment, the Park System, and the people who like to visit the National Parks?

I love Shenandoah National Park.

My parents honeymooned at Big Meadows Lodge in the 1940s. They camped with my sisters and me at Big Meadows Campground and Loft Mountain Campground throughout our growing-up years. I have books on the history of the mountain folks whose farms used to dot that rugged land, trail guides, and illustrated paperbacks of the flowers, birds, and reptiles. I've hiked many of the trails, seen the waterfalls, quietly sat at the hidden cemeteries and contemplated the people who are buried there, explored ledges and pathways and overnight cabins.

I've seen wildlife of all kinds up and down the Skyline Drive, heard black bears pant just outside my tent as they headed toward an unsuspecting camper's cooler, stepped over snakes on trails (ugh - will never get used to snakes), and even saw a bobcat once on a foggy rainy day in the picnic area at Loft Mountain. That was awesome.

Besides the bobcat, the other wildlife event that stood out the most to me was September 2000 when we stopped at Ivy Creek Overlook and my then five-year-old niece hopped out of the vehicle and jumped up on the rock wall. Thankfully, she didn't step onto the other side ... because there were two copperheads and a black rattlesnake, at intervals along the wall, stretched out warming up. We had gone through a very rainy season and the snakes apparently overcame their usually territorial tendencies to warm up on higher ground. It was such an unusual occurence that we stopped afterwards to chat with the Rangers and let them know about it. They confirmed it was unusual and due to all the rain and they had seen it on rare occurrences. I made note of the event in my Guide to Skyline Drive.

I'm older now and don't hike like I used to ... but I still love that area. To have seen my President there would have been a dream-come-true. Short of that, I'm grateful he's looking out for my Shenandoah National Park.

No comments: