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Lean Times for Park System `Jewels'

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PEOPLE visiting this grand old national park will find most of the scenery, wildlife, and thermal wonders as spectacular as ever this summer. The park's natural resources, says superintendent Bob Barbee, are in better shape than they have been for years. Like many of the managers and rangers throughout the national park system, however, Mr. Barbee worries about his staff's ability to protect these resources, maintain facilities, and continue to give visitors the kind of park experience that long has been the tradition of the National Park Service.

Visitors will find 60 percent of the roads in bad condition, trails needing maintenance, and fewer ranger talks and guided nature walks. A ranger will not be handy to start a stalled car; responses to emergency situations may be delayed. Yellowstone has not been able to get enough funds and staff to keep up with inflated operating costs, so the aging infrastructure deteriorates and the well-being of its wildlife and natural resources becomes increasingly precarious.

Most of the challenges that daily confront park managers involve lack of money. Many of the 357 units of the National Park Service are starved for enough funds and personnel to provide adequate maintenance and protection and to help people experience nature firsthand and gain a deeper understanding of the American past.

This year is supposed to be a time of celebration, commemorating 75 years since the birth of the National Park Service on Aug. 25, 1916. But among the park service managers and rangers, there is little celebration. Instead, it is a time for hunkering down.

Most park workers remain highly motivated and consider the United States park system the best in the world. But morale suffers when overworked and underpaid rangers see limited opportunity for advancement. Congress votes new units into existence without providing adequate money to operate them. As a result, already sparse staffs in existing parks find themselves spread ever more thinly, with growing demands.

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