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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Bucks Stop Here

Air Date: Week of

Commentator David Catlin tells us why, even as a loyal Missourian who respects Harry S. Truman, he thinks a national park in the late president's honor seems like misspent funds. Catlin feels national park dollars would be better spent on our many declining trails and dispirited old faithfuls.


CURWOOD: If you had a chance to visit one of our US national parks this summer, you may have found the facilities overtaxed by the crowds. Commentator David Catlin has some pointed thoughts as to why.

CATLIN: Missourians revere Truman as an almost mythical figure, right up there with Mark Twain and George Brett. So the neighbors hereabouts are shocked at my reaction to this development involving his house. I think it stinks. I think it stinks because our existing national parks are coming apart at the seams, and the last thing their managing agency needs is to spend its meager monies on another pet project of local boosters who have the ear of their Congressman.

Ironically, about the same time the Truman transaction hit the news, the National Parks and Conservation Association released the results of a survey of national park superintendents. The word was uniformly gloomy. The condition of park infrastructures - the roads, trails, visitors' centers, bathrooms, and other basic facilities - was given Cs and Ds virtually across the board.

So I don't believe we should be spending money on anything as dubious as Truman's Grandview home. Now don't get me wrong; I think Truman was a great guy, too. But how many of his lodgings rate as national treasures? We already own one: the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site in Independence, Missouri. Other Truman memorabilia worth saving is protected, as it should be, by local entities. His birthplace in Lamar, Missouri, is a state historical site. The privately-administered Truman Library in Independence houses his artifacts and papers. And the Grandview home was, until now, run by the county.

I think the memory of Harry Truman is already pretty well provided for. But this is park barrel politics, and it's nothing new. Call me a purist, but it saddens me to think that places like Gateway National Recreation Area, Steam Town National Historic Site, and the Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial, are sucking up Federal tax money while Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Gettysburg go begging.

And how much is Truman's Grandview house going to cost? Nobody has the exact figure yet, but there will be inspection dollars and research dollars and restoration dollars, and dollars to staff the place and et cetera. Compared to the national debt, this may not seem like a lot of money. But it would repair plenty of gullied trails in the Smokies, or replace the archaic plumbing in the Badlands.

So, if you flatten a tire or lose a hub cap in a national park pothole, don't jump the superintendent. He didn't have the funds to fix it. Why not? The answer may be found in my home state of Missouri. The bucks stopped here.

CURWOOD: Commentator David Catlin is a naturalist who worked for the National Park Service for 6 years. His comments come to us from member station KSMU in Springfield, Missouri.



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