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Monday, October 15, 2012

National Park Service: Management Partnerships

Laura B. Comay
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

In recent decades, it has become more common for units of the National Park System to be owned and/or managed in a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and outside entities in the federal, tribal, state, local, or private sectors. Such units are often called “partnership parks.” Congressional interest in partnership parks is growing, 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, NPS also has some longstanding 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.

In addition to partnerships within the National Park System, NPS also assists state, local, tribal, and private land managers with the administration of areas outside the park system. Here, the federal government’s investment is more limited than in the National 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: October 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R42125
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