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Great Lakes Article:

Fed Park Funding a Problem in State
By Dinesh Ramde
Associated Press
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


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