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A Shortage of Resources [1980s]

NPS Director Russell Dickenson
Director Dickenson and park restoration:

In 1980, Russell Dickenson became the director of the National Park Service and stopped the expansionism of the previous decade. Although the "park barrel" criticism may have had some influence on Director Dickenson, the main reason for the NPS's new direction was its shortage of resources to properly manage its existing units. In 1981 and 1982, no new parks were created, and Dickenson initiated the $1 billion Park Restoration and Improvement Program to fund the maintenance and renovation of park resources and facilities.

Photo: NPS Director Russell Dickenson

Geyser at Yellowstone National Park
"Tourism is not our mission":

However, in the mid-1980s, the NPS returned to a more expansionist approach, adding many more historic sites to the system. When James M. Ridenour became the NPS director in 1989, he set out to curb that expansionism, just as Director Dickenson had done nearly 10 years before. He spoke out against park barrel restoration projects that were foisted on the NPS, stating, "Tourism is not our mission."

Ridenour lamented that the government was "spending lots of money creating new parks, which may or may not be of national significance," and worried that these new parks were "thinning the blood" of the National Park System. Congress was sending a lot of money to these newly added units, sometimes even millions of dollars beyond their appropriations limits, while at the same time the Park Service had a $2 billion backlog of maintenance projects. In particular, the "crown jewels" of the system, the famous and spectacular parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone, were not getting needed funds and were in danger of falling into decline. During his tenure as director, Ridenour tried to develop partnerships with other public and private interests as alternative solutions for protecting land both within the National Park System and outside of it.

Photo: A geyser at Yellowstone National Park