Who manages 80 million acres of priceless land, maintains thousands of vintage lodges and famous residences, has 300 million or more visitors a year - and gets more land, facilities, and people to deal with every year?
The National Park Service.
And every year about this time, as vacationers muster, alarms go off about endangered parks and inadequate maintenance.
Those alarms deserve to be heeded. The park system's enduring problems range from a busted sewer system in Yellowstone to view-blurring smog in national parks like the Great Smokies and Big Bend, as well as Sequoia, which President Bush just visited.
The president took time while admiring the giant redwoods to repeat his commitment to clearing up the parks' $4.9 million maintenance backlog. He's already made a small step in that direction, asking Congress for $439.6 million in park maintenance funds for the next fiscal year.
Perhaps more important, Mr. Bush has taken two other steps that bode well for the park system. First, the administration has decided to move ahead with a Clinton plan to improve the air quality in the parks. Clean-up efforts, orchestrated by the Environmental Protection Agency, will focus on older coal-fired power plants, refineries, and factories whose plumes of pollution drift into the parks.
An equally troubling source of pollution is car and bus traffic. Some parks are setting up transit services that allow people to leave their vehicles outside.
The second commendable Bush move is a moratorium on additions to the park system. Members of Congress have a habit of proposing a historical or natural site back home as new national monuments or parks. Sometimes the sites are worthy; often they're marginal at best. But the lawmakers usually humor their colleagues by approving them. This strains the system, and Bush is absolutely right to call a halt to such practices.
The national parks are incomparable treasures, all too easily tarnished by neglect. If the president wants to polish his green credentials by helping the parks, great. Voters will be looking for consistent follow-through.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor