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Thursday, January 5, 2012

National Park Service: Partnership Parks and Programs

Laura B. Comay

In recent decades, Congress has increased the number of “partnership parks” in the National Park System—park units owned and/or managed in a partnership between the National Park Service and outside entities in the federal, tribal, state, local, or private sectors. Interest in partnership parks continues to grow, especially as Congress seeks ways to leverage limited financial resources for park management.

Congress may create partnership parks to save costs for both the federal government and nonfederal stakeholders, combining investments so that neither partner carries the entire burden for park administration. Partnerships may also address concerns of Members of Congress and others about federal land acquisition, by allowing nonfederal partners to own significant portions of a park unit. In addition to such federal-nonfederal partnerships, the Park Service also has some long-standing management partnerships with other federal agencies and with Indian tribes. Partnership parks span a range of physical settings, including “lived-in” landscapes, where natural and historical attractions are mixed with homes and businesses.

Beyond the partnership parks, which are units of the National Park System, the Park Service also aids state, local, tribal, and private land managers in areas outside the park system. Here, the federal government’s investment is more limited than in the park system. The Park Service offers technical and/or financial assistance to certain legislatively authorized nonfederal areas, such as national heritage areas, and to a broader range of applicants through grant programs such as the Historic Preservation Fund or the American Battlefield Protection Program.

When evaluating partnership parks and programs, Congress faces both specific questions about the suitability of partnerships for particular areas and larger questions about the role of partnerships in the park system as a whole. For specific areas, is partnership warranted, and if so, how should financial responsibilities be shared between the Park Service and its partners? What concerns might arise around federal land ownership? What administrative benefits and challenges might be involved in managing a park through partnerships? More broadly, do partnership parks and programs further or impede the mission of the National Park Service? On the one hand, partnerships may offer the opportunity to protect areas that would otherwise be difficult to conserve. On the other hand, some suggest that partnership efforts may divert money and attention from the Park Service’s main priorities.

Date of Report: December 2
1, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R4212
Price: $29.95

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