National parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle

For decades, visitors have blanketed the National Mall to celebrate our nation’s independence. From the Capitol Fourth concert to the remarkable fireworks display, this event has been for all Americans to relish and enjoy. Unfortunately, this year the Fourth of July has become a political spectacle — altering from its historic roots in nonpartisan fanfare to a stunt focused on military might and the president, including a speech on the hallowed steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

Since the events were made public, by the administration, our staff at National Parks Conservation Association have gotten questions about everything from where the fireworks will be located, to how the event is being paid for, to who will ensure the security detail for the president and the public.

We had early concerns about the potential strain on already stretched National Park Service budgets, with rumors of the event being bigger than ever. Now with confirmation from the media and our own sources that the administration’s “Salute to America” July 4 event will indeed siphon $2.5 million out of park fee coffers, we are concerned not only about the optics of the event — one that has gone from family-friendly to seemingly political and polarizing — but about the inappropriate use of national park funds. 

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For the second time in just seven months, the Trump administration is raiding national parks of desperately needed money and using it for political gain. This money is supposed to be spent on the service and maintenance projects that improve the visitor’s park experience. 

National parks are already facing billions of dollars in backlogged repairs, staffing shortages and budget cuts. There’s never a good time to take money from the national parks, but this couldn’t be worse.

During the government shutdown earlier this year, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt directed some parks to use fee revenue to keep their gates open. Those funds weren’t enough to keep park resources and visitors safe, and Bernhardt knew it. The only reason for that decision was a desire to quell the national outcry over the shutdown’s impact on parks like Joshua Tree, where vandals literally cut down the namesake trees.

Compared to the whole federal budget, it might seem that $2.5 million isn’t very much money. But to a national park — that is already financially suffering — that money is everything.

It’s appalled that this longstanding national tradition has become yet another example of the administration’s shortsightedness when it comes to our national parks. As with other actions taken against our national parks, this decision is likely a violation of federal law. The National Parks Conservation Association is joining with Democracy Forward to demand an official investigation.

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For 100 years, we have worked to hold the government accountable for protecting the national parks for all to experience and enjoy. With every bad decision and funding cut, this administration is putting into doubt the future of our national parks and the ability for future generations to experience them as we all have.

Former Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE once said that national parks are in the “forever business.” The nature, history and culture of our national parks is part of our American heritage. Just like we celebrate Independence Day, that heritage deserves to be celebrated, not shortchanged for a political stunt.

Theresa Pierno is the president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonpartisan group that advocates to protect and improve national parks.