Bear necessities for National parks

Among the better reasons to live in the Puget Sound region is certainly our proximity to a pair of wondrous national parks.

We islanders are blessed to live within a morning’s drive of majestic Mount Rainier to the east, and the amazingly dense forests of Olympic National Park to the west – each as triumphant a display of evo-creation as you can find on the planet.

The national park system is one of our country’s most proud achievements. Yet sadly, our parks have fallen on lean times of late, with the system reporting an annual operating deficit of some $600 million. Visitors are likely to find buildings crumbling, trails poorly maintained, educational programs curtailed and rangers scarce. Seems like the only time the park system makes the news is when some barbarians demand the right to chase caribou herds with their snowmobiles, and the Secretary of the Interior agrees.

We were apprised this week of an intriguing effort to shore up our national park system through the work of the National Parks Conservation Association. The centerpiece of the effort is the proposed National Park Centennial Act, federal legislation introduced last fall by Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, and sponsored by two members of the Washington delegation, Democrat Brian Baird from the 3rd District and Republican Dave Reichert from the 8th.

The act would bolster funding to put the park system on better footing by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Americans could donate to their parks by checking a box on their federal tax return (as they can do now with the Presidential Election Campaign Fund); a laundry list of improvements and maintenance projects would restore the system to its longtime splendor.

The effort is personified – or perhaps the proper term would be “ursinified” – by Teddy the Park Bear, who is making the rounds of national parks across the West. In fact, islanders who head over to Olympic National Park this weekend will find Teddy at the main visitor center in Port Angeles, with a sheaf of literature and postcards that patrons can fill out and send to Congress, urging passage of the act. He’ll amble up to Mount Rainier on Aug. 6-7; the website www.trackingteddy.org follows Teddy’s, ahem, bearabouts, and gives a paws-up/paws-down report on conditions at each park he visits.

If you see Teddy at Olympic National Park or up on Mount Rainier, shake his paw.

And urge him to chase a snowmobiler.

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