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Thursday, February 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

It's time to get involved in YOUR national parks

Special to The Times

When speaking about America's national parks, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "There is nothing so American as our national parks... . The fundamental idea behind the parks... is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us."

From Acadia to the Everglades, Carlsbad Caverns to Mount Rainier, our country's national parks are something that every American can look to not only with pride and appreciation, but also with a sense of ownership, because this country's remarkable parks belong to every American.

Here in Washington, we are fortunate to live and work next to several of the country's crown-jewel parks. As someone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost my entire life, I have a great appreciation for and interest in protecting our nation's public lands. It is crucial that we conserve our natural resources for our children and grandchildren to experience. That is why I have co-sponsored legislation such as the Wild Sky Wilderness Act and the National Park Centennial Act, both of which fulfill the objective of conservation.

Protecting public lands for future generations is an American ideal I believe we all share. Nearly a century ago, Congress established the National Park Service (NPS) to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such a means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." The National Park Service management policies are responsible for implementing this mandate.

The management of our national parks is critically important to the state. For nearly 100 years, the National Park Service has worked to balance the best interests of our national parks, the thousands of Americans who visit them daily and recreate there, and the businesses and industry that survive based on the parks' operation.

Currently, the National Park Service is taking comments on proposed changes to park-management policies. Updated regularly, the management policies provide strong guidance to park managers as to how to balance use with park protection. The policies are not laws or even regulations; they are a guidebook to help managers make good decisions. The revisions are being updated and reviewed by National Park Service career professionals, and will continue to reflect the core mission of the park service.

The policies were last revised about five years ago and much has changed since then — there are homeland-security challenges, technological advances that park managers must keep up with and changing demographics, such as people moving closer to park borders. However, it's our responsibility as patrons of the parks to monitor the proposed changes to ensure both that they do not go too far and that they give the park service the tools it needs to work in a changing environment.

Recently, a draft of the proposed changes to NPS management policies was made public. I encourage you to review the policies and comment. As the community most involved in our National Park System, your input on these proposed changes is invaluable.

The relevant committees of both the House and the Senate will be holding hearings during the second session of the 109th Congress to review the proposed changes and to hear testimony from stakeholders, including NPS park managers, representatives from recreational groups and former NPS administrators, among others.

Just as the employees of the National Park Service are working to protect the parks in perpetuity, I, too, want to ensure that our state's breathtaking natural beauty is preserved so my grandchildren can create the same outdoor memories I did, with their own children. I leave you with this quote by Newton B. Drury, National Park Service director from 1940 to 1951:

"The American way of life consists of something that goes greatly beyond the mere obtaining of the necessities of existence. If it means anything, it means that America presents to its citizens an opportunity to grow mentally and spiritually, as well as physically. The National Park System and the work of the National Park Service constitute one of the federal government's important contributions to that opportunity. Together they make it possible for all Americans — millions of them at firsthand — to enjoy unspoiled the great scenic places of the nation... ."

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, represents the 8th Congressional District. Comment on proposed changes to National Park Service management policies is being accepted through Feb. 18 at http://parkplanning.nps.gov

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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