Missouri-born George Washington Carver was an African-American
trailblazer and a world-renowned scientist best known for turning
peanuts into paper, plastic and a substitute for milk.
Yet the National Park Service can't find $250,000 - peanuts by
today's standards - for a center to display his original microscope
and 2,000 of his papers and possessions. They remain stored in a
maintenance building at the George Washington Carver National
Monument near Joplin, Mo.
"As it is, we cannot fully tell the story of Dr. Carver's life
and his contributions to mankind," said William Jackson,
superintendent at the park.
The needs at the Carver Monument are not unusual. Across the
country, advocates say parks and historic sites are deteriorating
so rapidly that extraordinary efforts are needed to rescue them.
Soon, national campaigns will be waged to free up hundreds of
millions of dollars for the task:
* Next month, park officials, conservation organizations and
sports equipment companies will gather in a first-of-its-kind
summit meeting near Monterey, Calif. The main goal is forcing
Congress to stop raiding the Land and Water Conservation fund -
$900 million that is supposed to be available each year to acquire
* The National Park Service is considering a massive program to
issue bonds to tackle a $5.5 billion backlog of projects, a top
official disclosed last week. A decision will be made by spring on
whether to push the bond plan, which would require Congressional
approval, said Destry Jarvis, assistant director for external
"We're not at the disaster point yet, but we're at the point
where rot in the system could overwhelm us and we might need to
consider closing some parks," said Jarvis.
Arch To Abe's House
Finding needs is easy. At St. Louis' Gateway Arch, visited by
3.5 million people last year, the north overlook was closed this
month because of crumbling concrete.
Visitors still can use the winding walkway that leads from
Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard to the wooded grounds near the Arch.
But the overlook, raised about 10 steps above that area, is fenced
off with a sign that says "work in progress."
Arch superintendent Gary W. Easton says there probably will be
money in the budget next year to fix the overlook, although he
doesn't know when. But Easton is unsure where he'll find as much as
$125,000 to repair or replace an air conditioner - one of three in
the Arch - that is broken. He's glad he doesn't have to worry about
it over the winter.
Nor does Easton know when, or if, he can fill nine vacant jobs,
from law enforcement ranger to engineer. He's concerned, too, about
costly repairs at the Old Courthouse, part of the Jefferson
National Expansion Memorial. Easton has asked architects to
evaluate damage after some of 33 chimneys shifted recently as much
as an inch. "We don't have money to make ends meet," said Easton.
At least the Arch hasn't had to cut back service like the Ozark
National Scenic Riverways. The Ozark park covers 134 miles along
the Jack's Fork and Current rivers and 380 miles of roads. With its
work force shrinking, the park closed its Acres campground last
season and turned off water at four campgrounds because no one was
available to check for purity.
In the early 1980s, the park regularly hired about 75 seasonal
employees to buttress its permanent force. Last summer, the number
of seasonal workers was down to seven, among the reasons why the
campground closed, the water was turned off and canoeists saw more
trash along the river, said assistant superintendent Tom Griffiths.
Newer parks, like the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
in St. Louis, have special problems because they have not been
around long enough to establish clout. Jill O'Bright,
superintendent at the 6-year-old site on Grant Road, said she's
been limited in developing history programs for schools. The
Lincoln Home in Springfield, Ill., has enjoyed unusual support
thanks to Abraham Lincoln's hero status. …