With national parks across the country reporting record attendance this summer, Sen. Angus King says there’s one solution Congress could embrace: Create more parks.

“If you have a demand problem, one way to beat it is to increase the supply,” King (I-Maine) said in an interview last week.

King, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, said he intends to schedule a hearing on the subject in the coming months to spur a debate.

“I don’t have anything specific in mind, but I think it would be useful to have the park service and those interested outside parties like the park foundation examine this question and discuss it further,” King said. “My whole idea with the subcommittee is I want to try to anticipate problems and deal with them before they become a crisis.”

The possibility of expanding the National Park Service has gained steam in recent weeks after King suggested it at a subcommittee hearing in late July, when senators grilled NPS officials and others on the current overcrowding at parks (E&E Daily, July 29).

“I think he’s right, and I also think that they need to look at the day-to-day operational funding,” said Phil Francis, a retired park superintendent and the chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.

“With the numbers we’re seeing and the interest that seems to be occurring, to me, you know, we probably need more parks — and we need more funding,” Francis said.

Any plan to increase the size of the park service would likely encounter resistance.

Shawn Regan, vice president of research at the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont., said it would make more sense for Congress to focus on how to fund recreation on all federal lands, including allowing federal agencies to raise more fees.

“Creating new national parks without corresponding funding increases — or without a sustainable solution to the agency’s maintenance problems — could further strain an already-strained National Park System,” said Regan, whose group describes itself as “the home of free market environmentalism."

‘A gigantic amount of land’

t the July hearing, King told his colleagues that while more shuttle buses and reservation systems could help ease overcrowding, there is “no single solution.”

King last week suggested two possibilities that could lead to more national parks: convert some existing NPS properties or use land now controlled by other federal agencies.

“One of the things that we’re going to want to look at is: Are there areas that could be upgraded without a great deal of cost, for example, from a national monument to a park?” King said in a telephone interview from his home in Brunswick, Maine.

“And the federal government owns a gigantic amount of land, particularly out West, that isn’t park. … It’s bureau of public lands; it’s national forest; it’s other kind of public lands, and I think we need to think about increasing the supply of these opportunities for this experience for the American people,” he added.

The National Park Service currently manages 423 sites, with 15 percent of them — or 63 — classified as national parks. Altogether, the agency controls more than 85 million acres in all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and U.S. territories, a mass of land that’s more than twice the size of Florida.

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