The Benefits, and Costs, of the NPS in NM


It’s the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and the media are providing quite a lot of coverage of the celebration.

The NPS has a huge presence in the Land of Enchantment — not surprising, given the number of scenic and cultural wonders here. But while the attractions draw visitors to the state, it’s important to remember that government management has its drawbacks. Exhibit A: The recent disaster over the elevators at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s tough to envision a private-sector entity screwing up to that degree.

Management issues plague the entire NPS. As the Property and Environment Research Center’s Terry Anderson notes in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, “a backlog of maintenance projects, including deteriorating roads, buildings and sewage systems … will cost $12 billion to fix. Each year the NPS goes to Congress asking for funding for its operating budgets but almost always gets less than it requests. Between 2005 and 2015, the federal budget grew by 39%, yet the NPS operating budget increased by only 1.7%. Meanwhile, park attendance in 2015 reached a record 305 million visits.”

Anderson recommends that Washington “take parks out of politics and politics out of parks by giving the gift of operating-budget autonomy.” Federal appropriations could then be directed toward the maintenance backlog.

From the Chaco ruins to Fort Union to Glorieta Pass Battlefield to the Gila Cliff Dwellings to White Sands, the NPS controls┬ámany of New Mexico’s priceless treasures. But the bureaucracy’s far from perfect, and some simple, but substantial, reforms would improve the system, both here and around the nation.