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Nikhil Nayyar
Dr. Lyn Freymiller
CAS 138T
6 April 2016
Americas Greatest Idea:
How National Parks Benefit the US and Why They Should Be Funded

American novelist Wallace Stegner once remarked, National parks are the best idea we

ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our

worst (Americas Best Idea). In the midst of the political maneuvering inherent in any

democracy, the notion of these parks represents something larger than just the individual. These

parks represent the very ideals sought for in any democracy. They prove Americans share a

common sense of purposea purpose manifested from the values of culture, conservation, and


Yet, today, the notion of National Parks and their importance is fading at an ever-

increasing rate. The most recently proposed budget would strip the National Park Service (NPS)

of $120 million in funding (America First 28). Already, this comes after the proposal of

Congressional bills to ease the selling off of all federal land, including land in National Parks.

(Nijuis). In defunding these parks, America is losing sight of the values which have aided the US

in the past century of the NPSs existence. Because of the benefits provided to the United States

by National Parks, the Federal Government should seek to maintain and develop the NPS by

increasing its funding and further supporting its activity. The arguments are centered around

three main categories of benefits provided: cultural benefits, ecological benefits, and economic

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The National Park Service should be funded because they preserve American cultural artifacts, in

the form of the National Parks themselves, and because they contribute to American culture daily

by providing for the leisure and recreation of millions of citizens. Before one can see the impact

of these parks on American culture today, one must first understand the parks from a historical

context and their importance as the product of some notion of an American culture.

The National Parks were the earliest manifestations of something uniquely American.

Guided by a sense of patriotism, the individuals who pushed for these parks in the late 19 th

century sought to develop these parks as natural monuments, distinct from the traditions

brought from the Old World (Jones 34). The choice to reevaluate nature as the source for the

new tradition takes on a special significance from this cultural perspective. This duality and clash

between human and nature was viewed as a quintessential characteristic of the American way of

life (Jones 33). It makes sense then that nature was used as the basis for creating this unique

cultural identity, given its role in the history of the country and its distinct association with

frontier life in the America. Europe had ancient tradition and a sense of cultural identity

grounded in man- made artifacts such as castles and in a centuries old historical text. America,

meanwhile, had no such basis for its sense of identity. As a result, the National Parks were

founded in the belief that they were independent of European thought, and thus, were the one of

the first steps in creating an American sense of identity correspondingly independent from

Europe and the lands East (Runte 12).

What this historical evidence indicates is a need to view these parks not just as designated

tracts of land but as the earliest product of Americas solely independent culture. In funding the

National Park Service, the Federal Government is taking on the role of preserving an integral
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aspect of American culture. These parks are truly something that are uniquely American in


Now, turn to modern impact of these parks on the American culture. For the day to day

lives of many Americans, this takes the form of recreation. In 2015, the number of National Park

visits reached a record high at 75.3 million visits (Flowers). Meanwhile, the number of total

visits to all lands operated by the National Park Service has been increasing steadily since 1996,

with a reported 307.2 million visits in 2015 alone (2015 National Park Visitor Spending). The

figures denote that about 21 visits were made per 100 people in the US. Thus, a significant

proportion of the US citizenry take advantage of these parks, making them a large aspect of the

American culture today as well.

These parks also provide numerous health and well-being benefits to individuals, who in

turn benefit the larger cultural setting in which they inhabit. For a more quantitative analysis of

the effects of parks, look to the Benefits Approach to Leisure (BAL). This system identifies a

steady list of benefits endowed upon the individual and said society. A small sampling of

examples of these benefits include increased mental and physical health for the individual and

greater cohesion among members of the larger community (Shultis 62-63). Though harder to

fully enumerate, there do exist recorded and measurable beneficial effects from the Parks


In this case, the National Parks are not just preserving a fundamental aspect of American

culture, they are also molding and contributing to it daily. The National Parks accrue these

societal impacts to those who visit, thereby affecting that larger American culture in which the

individuals inhabit. Thus, by further funding the NPS, the government is fulfilling its duty by

again furthering the quality of life among its citizens.

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The National Park Service should also be funded because they provide many ecological benefits

to the United States. Primarily, the Parks serve to conserve natural resources. Now, contrary to

popular belief, there is little association between total conservation, or protection of natural

resources from any human modification, and the early National Park movement (Runte 12). But,

as the parks system became more established in the early 1900s, a newfound understanding was

generated around the importance of replenishing resources as opposed to just aesthetic

landscapes. This emphasis took the form of utilitarian conservancy, a key distinction from the

modern notion of total conservancy (Runte 68) where nature is primarily protected for its

aesthetic value. An example of this utilitarian conservancy would be in lumber. At the turn of the

century, forests and trees were being cut down at a rapid rate to fuel the push into mechanization.

Utilitarian conservationists argued for a more pragmatic approach, emphasizing the need for

planting and protecting trees to ensure survival of the species should the rate of consumption

exceed the rate of tree growth. (Runte 69). New efforts where then enacted to protect natural

resources in the National Parks. In having designated land for the protection of the natural

resources, the National Parks ensure the availability the resource in the future. They serve a

pragmatic role in preserving resources used in everyday life from total eradication.

In addition, the parks serve as ecological benchmarks to study the interactions of nature

and then to identify any human impacts on these environments. Following the wave of utilitarian

conservancy, there was a marked return to the notion of preserving the parks as a wilderness, as

something untouched by human hands. Gradually, many Americans in the scientific

communities of the mid-20th century began to recognize a large difference in the wildness of
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Park lands and the urban, developed land in the rest of the country. (Davis, Graber, and Acker


This difference proved extremely beneficial to preserving the ecological health of the

country as scientists can identify changes in environment as the result of natural processes or as

the result of human interference. For example, during the early 80s the reproductivity of

pelicans on Anacapa Island off the southern coast of California dropped drastically. Due to the

monitoring effort of the Parks, DDT, a pesticide harmful to many aviary species, was identified

as the culprit and was effectively removed from the population through regulation and legislation

(Davis, Graber, and Acker 136).

In addition, the National Park Service is equipped to promote the overall safety of the

ecosystem at large beyond the effects of just humans. The NPS deals with invasive species that

threaten the viability of the environment they inhabit and with pests such as mosquitos and

various fungi that pose a threat to human safety. In addition, they seek to secure the future for

endangered species that are on the brink of dying out, due mainly to human interaction, through

monitoring and various activities to reduce physical threats (NPS: Biologic Resource).

These Parks protect the resources have aided the US throughout its industrial history and

that will ensure the continuing viability of these resources. On another level, the Parks work to

protect the environment from the long-range impact of that same human civilization. Thus, the

National Park Service should continue to be funded as the parks themselves provide numerous

ecological benefits that benefit the country as a whole. In funding the National Parks, the Federal

Government is fulfilling its role to ensure the safety and health of the nation, both for humanity

and the environment.

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Finally, the National Park Service should be funded as the Parks contribute to the local

economies as well as the larger, national economy. This area of benefit is often misrepresented

whenever the discussion on the validity of national parks is brought into the national spotlight.

There are many myths concerns over the cost of these parks to repudiate. Before doing that, one

must first understand the gross economic gain provided by these parks.

National parks direct a large amount of cashflow into the local gateway communities in

which they inhabit. The Department of the Interior defines these gateway regions as directly

located within a 60 mile radius of the respective park (2015 National Park Visitor Spending cts).

In that same report, the Park system is estimated to have contributed $16.9 billion dollars to these

local gateway communities (2015 National Park Visitor Spending). This is through park related

admissions fees and other expenses. Something important to note is that the majority of this

income is accounted for in the form of local businesses in the gateway communities themselves.

Lodging (such as hotels, motels, etc.) and restaurants alone contribute 50% of that $16.9 billion-

dollar figure (2015 National Park Visitor Spending). It is extremely important to emphasize the

indirect nature of which these benefits take the form.

Therein lies the problem of short sightedness that accompanies many arguments against

the funding of these parks. Critics point to the growing backlog in park maintenance fees, a

figure that currently sits at $12 billion dollars, as a reason to cease all spending in the first place

(Rott). Further, National Park gross revenues makeup $1.69 billion dollars, a figure calculated

from the fact that this is 10% of the $16.9 billion dollar figure (2015 National Park Visitor

Spending) is contributed directly from these parks. Per annum, the NPS is usually allotted
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around $3 billion dollars (Selby). Thus, it appears that these parks only operate in a net loss

when only the direct revenue is factored into the equation.

But to analyze the data in this manner overlooks the wider consequences of the National

Park System. To put the budget of the NPS, in perspective, the budget makes up only .1% of the

total $3.4 trillion US budget (Budget). When compared to the impact on gateway communities,

there is a return on investment of about $6 dollars for every $1 invested. From an economic

perspective, then, there exists incentive for these parks to exist. So, for the national government,

they do operate on a net loss in regard to these parks. But there still exists net economic gain, it

is just shared between the national government and those gateway communities. In this sense, the

national government is providing for the economic health of the various communities that make

up the nation, another instance of the government fulfilling its duties at the federal level and

another reason for the Federal Government to fund the NPS


The benefits that National Parks and the National Park Service offer to America are many in

number and are diverse in character. The parks are a cultural monument, dedicated to preserving

the identity America has created for itself over the course of its history. The parks serve as

ecological havens, dedicated to the study and preservation of the environment and ourselves. The

parks are an economic asset, proving their worth through gains to both government and local

communities. Together, one common theme units these ideas: the National Parks are a good idea

for the country. And as such, the National Park should not only be maintained, but should be

allotted more federal funding. Going ahead, into the uncertain future of the National Park

Service and System, look to the benefits these parks pose. They truly show that National Parks

reflect America at its best.

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Works Cited

"America's Best Idea Today." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 17 Sept.

2009. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. <>.

"Budget." Congressional Budget Office. Congressional Budget Office, 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 8

Apr. 2017. <>.

Davis, Gary E., David M. Graber, and Steven A. Acker. "National Parks as Scientific Benchmark

Standards for the Biosphere; Or, How Are You Going to Tell How It Used to Be, When

There's Nothing Left to See?"The Full Value of Parks: From Economics to the

Intangible. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. 129-40. Print.

Flowers, Andrew. "The National Parks Have Never Been More Popular." FiveThirtyEight.

FiveThirtyEight, 25 May 2016. Web. 4 Apr. 2017.


Jones, Karen. "Unpacking Yellowstone." Civilizing Nature. Vol. 1. New York: Berghahn, 2015.

31-49. Print. Environment in History: International Perspectives.

Nijuis, Michelle. What Will Become of Federal Public Lands Under Trump? The New Yorker.

Conde Nast, 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.



"NPS: Biologic Resource Management " National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the

Interior, 02 Feb. 2017. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <>.

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Rott, Nathan. "National Parks Have A Long To-Do List But Can't Cover The Repair

Costs." NPR. NPR, 08 Mar. 2016. Web. 4 Apr. 2017.



Runte, Alfred. National Parks: The American Experience. 2nd ed. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska,

1987. Print.

Selby, W. Gardener. National Park Service Director Correct That Its Budget Less than Budget

for Austins City Government. Politifact. Tampa Bay Times, 24 June 2016. Web. 22

Mar. 2017. <


Shultis, John. "Recreational Values of Protected Areas." The Full Value of Parks : From

Economics to the Intangible. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. 59-75. Print.

United States of America. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. 2015 National Park

Visitor Spending Effects. By Catherine Cullianane Thomas and Lynne Koontz. Fort

Collins, CO: National Park Service, 2016. Print.

United States of America. Executive Office of the President. Office of Management and

Budget. America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again. N.p.: n.p., Web. 4 Apr. 2017. <

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Because National Parks benefit the United States ecologically, economically, and
culturally, the Federal Government should seek to maintain and develop the NPS by
increasing its funding and further supporting its activity.
Main Points:
1) National parks help to protect and conserve Americas natural resources. They provide a
benefit to many scientific endeavors that benefit the United States.

2) National Parks make significant contributions to American society by providing an outlet

for recreation, a service that has molded American culture in the 20 th and 21st century.

3) National Parks offer net economic gain, boosting both the economies of the local regions
they operate within and of the national government.

Ecological benefits:
o There has been a clash between tourism and conservation efforts
o This has led to criticism
Full Value pg. 131
o NPs serve as benchmarks for environmental effects
o See what effects are manmade vs natural
o Serve as gene bank for biological diversity
o Study the interactions inherent in nature
o Testing ground for conservation policies and research policies
o Examples pg 136
Civilizing Nature

The Ecological Benefits of National Parks
Use above source to discuss how park manages conservation
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Address balance between conservation and tourism

Full Value Essay
The Cultural Benefits of National Parks
early history of park to talk about larger meaning of American culture
Address how this is more abstract yet is a lasting fundamental impact of a unique
AMERICAN culture
Talk about current usage and how many americans visit
The Economic Benefits of National Parks
Money stats
Address cost criticism, dismiss with economic output