Fed Park Funding a Problem in State
By Dinesh Ramde
Published June 19, 2006
MILWAUKEE - Officials with Wisconsin's three national
trails and a national riverway say annual plans to upgrade
and expand resources are increasingly being shelved in
the face of insufficient federal funding.
Federal grants have remained constant or increased marginally
over the years, but not at levels that keep pace with
park expenses, officials said.
"Our budget has pretty much remained the same but
the cost of the things we're called upon to do has increased,"
said Kate Hanson, management assistant for the St. Croix
National Scenic Riverway.
One of the biggest expenses is fuel for the boats that
patrol the river, as well as for park workers who drive
along the riverway's 252-mile-long coastline to check
campsites and ensure visitor safety, she said.
Fuel costs are also hampering operations at the Apostle
Islands National Lakeshore, said spokesman Jim Nepstad.
"We burned about 17,000 gallons of boat fuel last
summer," said Nepstad, the Lakeshore's chief of planning
and resource management. "And these are big boats
- for safety reasons - but they only get two to three
miles per gallon."
Nepstad said the national lakeshore has received small
increases in funding every year, "but what we can
do with that money is sliding a bit with all of our increases
in fixed costs."
Park officials say they've had to get creative about
finding cost savings and efficiencies, frequently by scrutinizing
positions vacated by employees to see whether the position
needs to be filled. More often than not, they say, the
position is simply phased out.
Budget concerns forced St. Croix officials not to fill
vacant positions for water resource specialists and several
maintenance positions, Hanson said.
Officials with the state's two national trails say they've
become more reliant on donations and volunteer efforts.
The Ice Age Park & Trail, a hiking trail throughout
the state, is expected to be 1,200 miles long when completed.
It winds east from Polk County to Langlade County, south
through Dane County to Rock County, and back up through
the Upper Peninsula.
Because the trail isn't a traditional park with neatly
defined borders, it's a little more difficult to nail
down federal funding, said Christine Thisted, the trail
foundation's executive director.
"So this project has to be largely implemented by
volunteers and funded by philanthropists," she said.
"But with things like Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, stories
of hungry homeless kids, it's harder to convince people
to fund a footpath through the woods."
The trail foundation needs money for promotion and volunteer
recruitment and training, Thisted said, as well as to
contact public landowners along the proposed trail site
to request permission to include that land on the trail.
That's not always easy, said Jennifer Tripp, spokeswoman
for the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail
that runs from North Dakota along the upper border of
Wisconsin and ultimately to New York.
"We're rapidly losing the ability to acquire land
to complete the corridor because it's so much more economically
beneficial to sell it to a developer and then it's hard
to put a trail through there," she said. "Without
the necessary funds, we run the risk of being unable to
complete the trail."
Published: June 19, 2006