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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Fran Mainella

Fran Mainella
Director of the National Park Service
May 28, 2004

Fran Mainella

Thank you for joining us today - you are just in time to help us kick off the summer season. Our parks are open and the welcome mat is out - and we are expecting more than a million visitors a day this summer!

The excitement kicks off this weekend as we dedicate the long-awaited World War II Memorial here in Washington, DC. We will pay homage to the many soldiers and other heroes from that war, and celebrate the spirit of volunteerism and partnerships that helped make this Memorial a reality.

The National Park Service has many other successful initiatives underway for our summer visitation:

  • We have launched our "See America's National Parks" campaign which will showcase the diversity in our park system, encourage visitation in lesser known parks through the sale of park passes and other programs, and make travel to parks easier for visitors.
  • We are improving our national parks through science based projects funded by the Natural Resource Challenge.
  • We are also continuing to promote travel, tourism and education through our Park of the Week web program, Web rangers, Junior rangers and other "virtual education" projects.
  • We have developed the NPS Tourism Program as a collaborative effort with the travel Industry for the sustainability and health of the National Park System.
President Bush is committed to improving our national parks by investing $4.9 billion in funding over five years on needed maintenance and repairs. We have undertaken thousands of vital park maintenance projects and we are planning and executing thousands more. Most importantly, we are using a new system of inventory and assessment to identify facilities needing improvements and to measure those improvements as they are implemented. NPS has achieved record levels of funding and commitment - with its largest budget ever.

We are finding innovative and creative ways to address those challenges as our talented and dedicated employees continue to fulfill our mission to serve visitors and protect resources.

I'm looking forward to our dialogue today on "Ask the White House," and am grateful for the opportunity to discuss our nation's most treasured assets and my favorite topic, - our national parks.

Gerald, from Spokane, WA writes:
Last year I had the opportunity to listen to a person from the Department of Interior and she spoke about the work that had been made by the current adiminstration regarding the national parks. A job that I found very impressive. If Bush will be re-elected for a second term this fall what do you hope you will accomplish during that time? Both in a way that will benifit the entire nation and me as a nature loving private citizen?

Fran Mainella
Thank you for the question. I was recently out in Spokane attending an environmental meeting and it is a great community and state. President Bush's focus now and in the future is to support our national parks through efforts to protect our natural and cultural resources, and to assure visitor and employee safety.

One of his primary goals is to leave the parks in better condition than they were when he first came into office by repairing and rehabilitating park historic structures, visitor centers, restrooms, trails, roads and much more.

Another priority has been to strengthen the Park Service's science program to protect the natural wonders found in our parks.

Brett, from Madison, WI writes:
Is there going to be any new national parks added in the next few years?

Fran Mainella
Great timing for your question! Tomorrow, we will be dedicating the 388th park in our National Park system, and it is the National WWII Memorial here in Washington, D.C. President Bush will be in attendance, along with Interior Secretary Norton, and thousands of veterans, their families, and those who served on the homefront. We are finally able to honor the 16 million who served in the Armed Forces during the war, and the more than 400,000 who died.

Other new parks that have come into the system in the last 2 years are the Belle Grove Plantation and Cedar Creek Battlefield, which tells the story of the Civil War battle of Cedar Creek and the story of slavery. The Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA, is another new park that honors the heroes on that tragic flight and their sacrifices.

Jenny, from Tennessee writes:
How many national parks do we have? And what is the toughest part of your job?

Fran Mainella
Thanks for your question, Jenny. With the addition of the WWII Memorial, we will have 388 sites in the National Park System. Our parks welcome over a million people a day over the summer, and offer a great diversity of experiences for visitors of all ages to enjoy.

Please visit our Web site at to see the wide variety of parks including the Brown vs. Board of Education site in Topeka, KS, where we just celebrated, with President Bush, the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, marking the end of segregation in public schools, and the opening of a new visitor center.

From historic sites such as Brown vs. Board of Education to the large natural parks such as Yellowstone, there is something for everyone in the National Park System.

I also encourage you to visit the Web site, a partnership we have with the Travel Industry Association, which will help you plan your trips, particularly to the lesser-known gems of our system.

Regarding the toughest part of my job, I do believe I have the best job in the Federal government, preserving our Nation's natural and cultural heritage, and making those places accessible and available to the public in an environmentally-friendly way. The toughest part is that I don't have enough time to visit as many parks as I would like to spend time with employees and visitors.

eric,evans, from benton, arkansas writes:
Fran, thank you for taking time for this. I live in Arkansas which if you have ever been here is to me the best, but I have real concerns about the forest we have left and the distruction of many natural habitats for our natural spieces in these areas.

Fran Mainella
Arkansas sure does have a lot great national parks. I have personally visitied both Hot Springs National Park and Ft. Smith, part of the Trail of Tears.

President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative is helping all of our states to maintain healthier lands and improve wildlife habitat. In the National Park Sevicem we are regularly involved in prescribed fires to keep the forests healthy, and we remove dense undergrowth and brush, particularly around structures in our parks. This was particularly important in Glacier National Park in Montana last summer, where major fires took place, but little structural damage was done.

Joseph, from Holderness,NH writes:
If I was to take a trip to Arcadia National Park what information would I have to optain in order to visit and camp at the park?

Fran Mainella
Taking a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine will be a great experience for you. I have had a chance to be there as Director, and you are going to love the historic carriage roads that have been restored as part of the President's initiative to address the maintenance backlog. We have an outstanding partnership with the Friends of Acadia who have support us through so many environmentally-friendly efforts including energy-efficient buses.

Don't forget our Web site at that will help you with your planning by offering information on activities, park hours, and special programs.

Each week, features a "Park of the Week" where you can learn about other sites in the system to visit.

karen, from crystal lake, illinois writes:
I was fortunate enough as a child to visit alot of our county's national parks. My parents took us on these wonderful vacations and i have to say they were my favorite ones That was over 30 years ago.

We always stayed on the grounds at the lodge - and i recall that alot of these lodges were built by people during the depression working for the WPA.

My question is - don't some of these national park lodges and facilities need renovations, updates, etc. and wouldn't it be great to get people who are unemployed and have the skills to work at the updating and renovation of our park buildings through a government work program?

Fran Mainella
Karen, I started my interest in National Parks, too, by visiting parks as a child including Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I won't tell you how many years ago that was.

The President's focus on addressing the deferred maintenance in Parks is helping us restore many of these historic structures, such as the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, which just celebrated its 100th Anniversary.

We do have strong partnerships with the Student Conservation Association and the Youth Conservation Corps which are similar to the old CCC and WPA. These organizations provide jobs to America's youth and restore park facilities and trails.

Billy, from West Virginia writes:
Have you seen that Metamucil commercial about Old Faithful? Has anyone ever been caught trying to pour stuff down the geysers?

Fran Mainella
We actually have had people try to pour things down the geyser, and we try very hard to educate our visitors to respect all park natural and cultural features. We urge the public to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Joan, from Birmingham, AL writes:
How you justify your testimony before the House Appropriations Committee

in March, where you pledged not to make significant cuts to park services, when Parks such as Death Valley National Park has only 13 law enforcement officers, down from 23 a few years ago? What is happening at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation area where the seasonal staff is being cut from 2002

levels of 70 to 41 this year?

Fran Mainella
Thanks for your question. The 2005 budget request has the largest amount of money for our parks in history, and also funds the most fulltime employees. We have, since Sept. 11, increased our focus on providing for visitor and employee safety though law enforcement, fire fighting and prevention, natural resource protection, and maintenance improvements.

My testimony made it very clear that our parks would be open, but acknowledged there have been lapses in positions due to tighter budgets. This is not unique to this Administration. I have confidence in our superintendents to manage within their budgets to ensure that parks are open, resources are protected, and outstanding visitor services are provided.

Andrew, from Memphis, TN writes:
Other than President Bush's visit to Yosemite National Park last year, have there been other presidential visits to National Parks?

Fran Mainella
President Bush is an avid outdoorsman and park supporter. In fact, he has probably visited more national park sites than any other president in recent years. He has visited almost 20 parks, and we expect that he will visit many more, including the new WWII Memorial tomorrow in Washington for its dedication.

Jack, from Los Angeles writes:
What is the status of the program to privatize many of the jobs traditionally held by NPS employees?

Fran Mainella
Thanks for the question and the opportunity to clarify this misconception. Our employees are the best assets we have in the National Park System. The National Park System, since its inception in 1916, has relied heavily on the private sector. More than half of the people who serve you in your national parks fall under the category of "private sector," including volunteers and concessioners.

In all of the competitive reviews, our employees are demonstrating they are the best. These reviews have helped us to become more efficient and effective public servants.

Fran Mainella
Thanks for all the great questions, and come on out this summer and see America's National Parks.