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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.

Dirk Kempthorne
Secretary of the Interior
April 24, 2007

Dirk Kempthorne
Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here today on Ask the White House to discuss National Park Week.

National Park Week is an annual Presidentially proclaimed week for celebration of our National Parks. At Yellowstone and Yosemite, Denali and Dinosaur, Grand Canyon and Grand Teton, Shiloh, Shenandoah and other parks, the National Park Service each year welcomes 270 million visitors.

I love our parks. And I love my job. I may not be the Secretary of the Treasury, but I do oversee America’s treasures. I oversee America the Beautiful, which of course includes the 391 units of the National Park Service. I can say 391 today because yesterday, with great reverence and honor, I signed the papers to create Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, the 391st National Park Unit. The site memorializes the massacre of nearly 160 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on November 29, 1864. We owe it to the men, women, and children who lost their lives that day, to their families, and to all Americans that we learn from this terrible tragedy. Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar and our new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman, joined me for the signing ceremony.

As we kicked off National Park Week yesterday, I also had the honor of reopening the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC, following a 3-year, $2.7 million preservation project. Frederick Douglass is truly one of our nation’s national heroes; a man whose life we should study and whose courage integrity, and humanity we should emulate. Now, visitors can once again tour the Frederick Douglass house and see it as it was in the days when he lived there.

Since becoming Secretary at the end of May, I have visited 43 parks, and will be visiting four more during the next few days as we continue to celebrate our Parks.

The theme for National Park Week 2007 is Your National Parks: Explore, Learn Protect. It was chosen because this year National Park Week will coincide with National Junior Ranger Day on April 28. Explore, Learn, Protect: Become a Junior Ranger! is the official motto of the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program. It is also an invitation for young people to explore our national parks, historic sites, recreation areas and monuments with their families, to learn about nature and history, and to become active stewards in the protection of our environment and cultural heritage.

Americans, especially young people, have become separated from the power of the great outdoors to renew and revive the human spirit. Vast numbers of children spend much of their lives sedentary, playing games on their computers in a windowless room. The Junior Ranger program is designed to engage children and families in the stories embodied in their national parks. Children complete activity books that lead them through the park in a kid-friendly way. They are drawn to parts of the park story that they can relate to. There are Junior Ranger programs in 297 of our National Parks.

Since its establishment in 1916, the National Park Service has experienced phenomenal growth. We will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national park system in 2016 and President Bush is committed to ensuring that this 100th anniversary will indeed be a historic anniversary. Under the President’s direction, last summer we launched a 10-year effort to ensure our national parks not only endure but also flourish in the future. The goal of the Centennial Initiative is not to gear up to begin projects in 9 years, but to start now so that we can celebrate victory 9 years from today. The President instructed me to identify signature projects and establish performance goals for the initiative. He directed me to invite and receive suggestions from those who desire to preserve our parks. During the past few weeks, we conducted more than 40 listening sessions across the country. After listening to what you had to say and taking all of your comments into consideration, next month, National Park Service Director, Mary Bomar and I will be providing a list of specific performance goals to the President. By achieving these goals, we will make sure that our parks continue to be places where children and families can learn about our nation’s great history, enjoy quality time together and have fun outdoors.

The President’s 2008 budget inaugurates this historic, multi-year investment with the largest ever budget for operations and programs that benefit our national parks. Now we call upon you to help enhance and celebrate national parks by volunteering in a national park, joining a March for Parks event, supporting a non-profit park “friends group” and the National Park Service’s national partner, the National Park Foundation. I saw the spirit of volunteerism at work yesterday when I stopped by Pershing Park near the White House. Volunteers joined Park Service employees in giving their time to cleanup, fix up and replant. It was a wonderful event with everyone dedicated to making the Park a better place. It is this spirit we seek to capture during National Park Week and throughout the year.

National parks preserve majestic natural wonders. They keep culture alive at sites dedicated to the performing arts, poetry and music. Parks offer recreation and discovery through spectacular backcountry hiking and climbing. They honor great leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Chief Joseph, John Muir, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. As havens of enjoyment, recreation, learning and personal renewal, national parks must endure.

Join us now during National Park Week in recognizing the importance of our national parks.

I am now happy to take your questions.

Deidre, from Groton, CT writes:
I've had the priveledge of visiting many of our National Parks. 30 years ago my parents took their 4 youngest children including me on a year long adventure where we traveled and camped through this great country seeing

the National Historic Sites and beautiful National Parks. My favorite memory was waking up in Yellowstone on June 19th and seeing the ground blanketed in white. It had snowed 14 inchesI hope that my children will be able to enjoy the parks like I did. Because I love the National Parks and would like to be involved in someway in helping to revitalize them, my question to you is this. Are there any plans to encourage citizens to adopt a park, or help raise awareness of the Presidential Initiative, or in some

way get involved?

Dirk Kempthorne
Wow, that is a great memory that you will carry with you for the rest of your life, Deidre. Actually, my first visit to a national park as a young boy was to Yellowstone. I can still vividly remember the sight, the sound and the smell of the hot springs in the park. It was amazing. I am sure that thousands and thousands of American families can relate to our wonderful experiences in our national parks. That is why I’m working hard to reconnect the American family, especially children, to the outdoors. Children today have lost the connection with nature. Too often, they are indoors playing videogames instead of outdoors experiencing America the Beautiful. Deidre, I hope that more parents follow your wonderful example and take their children to national parks.

Thank you for your willingness to get involved. About 120,000 people annually participate in the Volunteer-in-Parks programs, donating time and talent to support the parks. In addition, many parks have “friends” groups, non-profit associations that assist individual parks. An example, in your home state of Connecticut, is the Weir Farm Art Center, which helps perpetuate the long-term preservation of Weir Farm National Historical Site’s heritage.

Actually yesterday, on Day One of National Park Week, I visited Pershing Park in downtown Washington DC, not far from my office. A number of employees from the Willard Hotel have adopted the park, and they were out volunteering at the park, cleaning it up and I stopped by to thank them.

John, from Texas writes:
I consider our National Parks to be a "Family Value". They must be the primary reason foreign tourists come to visit our shores. Has anybody ever figured out how much income National Parks generate for our economy? What percentage of that do they get back for their operating budgets?

Dirk Kempthorne
Thanks John. You are right. We certainly have lots of visitors to our national parks from around the world. They literally come from all over the earth to wonder at America the Beautiful. In 2005, American taxpayers invested $2.6 billion in the National Park System. The return on that investment was more than $10.4 billion, which is the amount of money that the 270 million visitors spent in communities while visiting our parks. In addition, the national parks support about 187,000 jobs in local communities.

China, from KCMO writes:
Mr. Kempthorne--what are some of the most common problems that National Parks face today?

Dirk Kempthorne
Park superintendents repeatedly tell me their greatest need and highest priority is increased funding for daily operations. President Bush has responded to this need with a bold, decisive and visionary budget. The President’s 2008 proposed budget includes $258 million dollars for park operations. It’s part of the President’s National Park Centennial Initiative. And it’s exactly what is needed to inspire park visitors now and in the future. Greeting park visitors will be new and improved facilities, visitor centers, campgrounds, trails, and programs. The Centennial Initiative will help prepare our national parks for their next century.

The President’s Centennial Commitment: $100 million per year for 10 years in federal spending will fund new levels of excellence in parks. These funds will hire 3,000 more seasonal national park rangers, guides and maintenance workers; repair buildings; improve landscapes; and enroll more children in Junior/Web Ranger programs.

The President’s Centennial Challenge: Each year for the next 10 years, $100 million of annual mandatory federal spending will be available to match at least $100 million in private contributions to national parks. This Centennial Challenge continues the legacy of leveraging public and private investment for the benefit of national parks and their visitors. Parks now receive about $20 million each year in cash gifts. The Centennial Challenge will increase the level of giving and help pay for signature programs and projects identified through a public, open, and transparent process.

Sam, from Vienna, VA writes:
How has the Bush Administration promoted or helped National Parks?

Dirk Kempthorne
The President has continually demonstrated his strong commitment to fulfilling stewardship responsibilities for our natural and cultural treasures, and providing outstanding visitor services, and enhancing appropriate recreational opportunities.

Over the last few years, we have completed, or are nearing completion on, more than 6,000 projects in our effort to reduce the long-standing maintenance backlog in our parks.

The President’s $2.4 billion National Park Service budget for 2008 calls for the largest increase in park operations funding ever proposed and leverages public-private investments that could generate as much as $3 billion over the next ten years to help the parks prepare for their 100th birthday in 2016. The proposed budget included 3,000 new seasonal employees, continued increases for park maintenance and targeted specific cultural and natural resource improvements. The 2008 budget proposal would be the first financial infusion for the President’s National Park Centennial Initiative that will ready America’s national parks for the 2016 Centennial.

First Lady Laura Bush serves as the honorary chairperson of the National Park Foundation. For years, she has spent time each summer in our national parks with her lifelong friends. The President and First Lady are both very passionate about America’s national parks.

Connor, from Philadelphia writes:
How can the general public be involved in National Park Week?

Dirk Kempthorne
One of my favorite questions, Connor. I hope that everyone has the same idea as you. By the end of National Park Week, I will have visited at least five more of our national parks. I started yesterday by reopening the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., following a 3-year, $2.7 million preservation project. Later this week, I plan to visit San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near Los Angeles, and Zion National Park. On Saturday, which is National Junior Ranger Day, I will swear in a group of new junior rangers.

There really are opportunities all across the country all week long. Many parks have scheduled special walks, talks, and exhibits to celebrate National Park Week. You can see a complete schedule of National Park Week events at

For example, at Pershing Park yesterday there were a number of volunteers raking mulch, pulling weeds and planting flowers. Last week, as part of National Volunteer Week, I worked alongside volunteers on the shores of the Potomac River picking up litter. There are lots of opportunities for you and others to get involved this week and all of the time. Any of these types of activities make a significant difference. To find out more opportunities, you can visit

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secretary Kempthorne: With Iraq taking up most of the news, one does not

hear much about our National Parks. So are visitations UP in our parks? and how many National Parks are there? Thank You

Dirk Kempthorne
Cliff, Good to hear from you again. I think that we last corresponded in February. As I recall, you have been a longtime volunteer in our national parks.

Each year more than 270 million people enjoy the beauty, majesty and history of our nation's 391 national parks. If you had asked me this question prior to 2:30 p.m. yesterday, I would have answered, Cliff, there are 390 national parks. But as I respond to your question now, I can happily say we have 391 national parks. Yesterday afternoon, I signed the document establishing America's newest national park site. It is Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Colorado. The site memorializes the massacre of nearly 160 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on November 29, 1864. We owe it to the men, women, and children who lost their lives that day, to their families, and to all Americans that we learn from this terrible tragedy. Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar and our new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman, joined me for the signing ceremony. Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Kiowa County, Colorado will be open to the public for the dedication next Saturday, April 28, 2007. National Park Service Director, Mary Bomar will be at the new park for the dedication ceremony.

And Cliff, since you mentioned Iraq, I wanted to take this opportunity to let the men and women serving over there know that we hold them in our thoughts and prayers.

Gregory, from Torrance, CA writes:
Dear Secretary Kempthorne: Many Enviromental And Civic Groups Are Concerned About Encroaching Development Projects On The Outskirts Of Our

Various Parks. For Example, The Civil War Trust Group Claims A Local Utility Company Has Been Digging Up Land To Place Cables On Protected Civil War Battlefields Without Permission. What Is The Dept. Of Interior Doing

To Protect Our Parks From Such Transgressions? Thank You.

Dirk Kempthorne
Gregory, I like this question. One of my first acts as Secretary of the Interior was to finalize the National Park Service Management Policies, which ensure that if there is ever a conflict between use of a resource and conservation, conservation will be predominant. As Secretary, I visited a number of Civil War battlefields that are part of the National Park System. Last fall I went to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park in Virginia.

Last October, I was fortunate to visit and tour historic Slaughter Pen Farm Site. As I walked through those now pastoral fields, where more than 5,000 men lost their lives at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, I reflected on how sacred and important this spot is. I’m happy to tell you that through public donations it has been saved from development and prevents encroachment on the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Around Christmastime, I participated in the annual illumination ceremony at the Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland. Interestingly, my great Grandfather – Pvt. Charles Kempthorne served with Co. I, 3rd Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War. He was wounded during the battle of Antietam. As I stood there and looked out upon those candles-–one for every casualty—I tried to imagine what my great grandfather and all of the others on the battlefield that day went through. And just last week, I was at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Through the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) we have provided nearly $3 million in grants to assist state and local efforts to acquire and preserve 460 acres of significant Civil War battlefields at five different sites. These grants leveraged nearly $14 million in non-federal dollars. In May 2006, $350,000 in grants was awarded to 11 groups working to protect and preserve historic American battlefields - grants designed to help safeguard significant battlefield lands as symbols of national heritage and individual sacrifice. In addition, at Richmond National Battlefield in Virginia the park took title to the 18th century Shelton home “Rural Plains” along with 124 acres associated with the Totopotomoy Creek 1864 battlefield.

boonwello, from arizona writes:
with the new national parks centennial initiative, what measures are being taken to make sure our parks are cleaner and safer?

Dirk Kempthorne
Thanks for the question. The National Park Centennial Initiative would result in an increase of $258 million for park operations. Beginning next summer, this new operating money would allow us to hire 3,000 additional seasonal rangers and maintenance employees, who will provide additional law enforcement presence in many parks, provide more opportunities for safety education, and more frequent cleaning and ongoing maintenance of park facilities. In addition, the budget provides $35 million for maintenance projects and $20 million for cultural and natural resources projects.

That said, just a few weeks ago, during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, I walked around the National Mall to see how things were going. I'll be honest, I did notice increased levels of trash that needed to be removed in order to enhance the visitor experience. So we increased the number of trash pickups.

On safety, I commend the men and women who serve as law enforcement rangers and also those on the force of the U.S. Park Police, established in 1792. They all do an outstanding job keeping park visitors safe around the country.

I hope you will have an opportunity to visit one of our great national parks in Arizona sometime soon! I hope the same for myself.

Hayley, from Fort Myers writes:
What types of activities or events are planned for National Park Week?

Dirk Kempthorne
Last week, President Bush issued a Presidential Proclamation designating this week as National Park Week. Parks across the country are holding events throughout the week, from hiking, to fishing, to art contests, to family and kids days. A special component of this year’s celebration of National Park Week is the addition of the first ever, National Junior Ranger Day. The motto of the Program is Explore, Learn, Protect: Become a Junior Ranger. About 300 parks have existing Junior Ranger programs that provide opportunities for kids to learn about parks in a fun and engaging way. More than 100 parks will have special events highlighting Junior Ranger activities on Saturday, April 28. Every child will receive a free certificate, patch or pin for participating. If a child is unable to visit a park in person during National Park Week, I invite him or her to visit the updated Web Rangers internet site at . Kids can choose to complete 40 different activities. They can also view live action cameras, share stories and pictures of parks, set up a personal ranger station, and earn a certificate.

Dirk Kempthorne
Thank you for those great questions.

Through the President’s Centennial Initiative, we will join in partnership with the American people to ensure that national parks across the country not only endure but also flourish. In doing so, we will ensure our parks inspire our grandchildren just as they inspired our grandparents in the last century. It was a pleasure to be with you today. Enjoy the rest of National Park Week 2007.

Additional Information:

View the National Park Week Events Schedule

Learn more about the National Park Centennial Initiative

Learn more about Junior Rangers

Join a March for Parks event

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