Parks Facing Funding Crunch Historic Sites Are Deteriorating

Article excerpt

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 lands. * 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 affairs. "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. …