On February 14-15, the National Parks Friends Alliance held its biannual meeting in Arlington, Virginia. The meeting brought together more than 100 people from organizations dedicated to supporting America's national parks from Acadia to Yosemite to Klondike.
AHF took advantage of the Friends Alliance meeting to gather ideas for how best to support the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (NHP) at Oak Ridge, TN, Hanford, WA, and Los Alamos, NM. Despite great diversity among the parks, the Friends groups face many common challenges.
Interim NPS director Mike Reynolds emphasized that national parks must represent the stories of America's diverse communities. For the Manhattan Project, this would include the stories of women, Native Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans.
In honor of the National Park Service's 2016 centennial, the National Park Foundation raised some $500 million to support the parks. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the national parks welcomed nearly 331 million visitors, a new record, in 2016.
NPS and the National Park Foundation plan to continue two popular initiatives. Every Kid in a Park gives every fourth-grade student in the country free access to national parks. Last year, several fourth grade classes were awed by the B Reactor. The Find Your Park campaign encourages Americans to visit national parks and intends to highlight lesser-known national parks and historic sites.
In 2016, Congress passed the National Park Service Centennial Act, which promotes the educational role of the Park Service and creates an endowment for NPS. Due to years of funding constraints, NPS currently faces a $12 billion maintenance backlog. In addition, the funds available for new parks have been limited. The Centennial Act is an important step in ensuring a sustainable financial future for NPS, but many challenges remain.