Oklahoma Senator calls Michigan National Park 'another slab of pork'

Oct 30, 2013

The words are aimed at the Keweenaw National Historical Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

And it's one of many parks called out in Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Oklahoma) report on wasteful spending with the National Park system.

In the report, "Parked! How Congress' Misplaced Priorities are Trashing Our National Treasures," Coburn argues that spending on national parks has become a way for Senators and Representatives to send money to their home districts - a wasteful way to run the National Park system, he says:

"Instead of proposing new national parks on the moon, Congress should be focused on restoring our decaying national treasures right here on earth.  Long before the government shutdown and sequestration, our parks had become a physical manifestation of Congress’ dysfunction," Dr. Coburn said. 

Three in Michigan are specifically called out. 

Of Isle Royal National Park, the report says:

The $4.35 million annual operating budget pays for the 55 full time employees that work  in the park unit. These 55 full time employees outnumber the 44 average daily visitors that come to the island. The federal funds used to support the visitation at this National Park do not stop with the Park Service budget  The Department of Transportation spends nearly $1 million annually through the Essential Air Service program to subsidize a SkyWest Airlines flight from Chicago-O’Hare to Houghton County Memorial Airport, where passengers board one of the ferryboats to the island.

Of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, the report says:

While it is difficult to determine whether making it a unit of the National Park Service achieved the goal of economic revitalization by drawing tourists, since the number of visitors are not counted, what is certain is the area has moved from mining copper to mining federal largess, extracting $1.5 million from the National Park Service budget every year to support its operating costs. 

And the report calls out what it calls wasteful land acquisition spending in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore:

In Michigan, the NPS has allotted $5.2 million to purchase 37 acres for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore at $142,000 per acre.

The report also highlights federal funds being spent on the "Motorcities National Heritage Area" to help coordinate and promote the "Spooktacular Automotive Halloween Contests and Autopalooza."

One solution, the report argues, is to decommission some parks and hand their operation over to states.

The report highlights a Michigan example of this. The "Mackinac National Park" was the nation's second national park after Yellowstone, the report says:

The War Department administered the fort until the 1890s, when the U.S. Army decided to abandon it. Mackinac has remained a popular tourist destination as a state park ever since it’s decommissioning in 1895, recording its 20 millionth visitor in 2009.

Needless to say, some Michigan congressional representatives and others take umbrage to the report. The Detroit Free Press' Todd Spangler spoke with them:

"Preserving natural treasures, including our wilderness areas and our important cultural legacies, isn’t a mistake," said U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "It’s right at the heart of our national park system’s mission and of who we are as a people."

We interviewed Spangler about his piece today for Stateside. Be sure to tune in for his thoughts. (We'll post the audio later today.)