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Guest Post: Perry M. Wheeler, National Parks Conservation Association

June 10, 2009

Before Congress sits an historic opportunity to help restore our national parks and drastically expand service opportunities in our country. The Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2009, H.R. 1612, would create thousands of new full-time, paid service positions that would help to refurbish and enhance our national parks and other public lands.

Our national parks currently face a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog, and a $622-million annual funding shortfall.  If placed in our national parks, Service Corps members could help to rehabilitate campgrounds, restore historic structures, eradicate invasive species, educate visitors, or conduct science and research projects throughout the park system. They would not replace trained professionals, but rather, would work alongside mentors and managers from the Forest Service, National Park Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect and restore our national heritage in our national parks and other public lands.

The Public Lands Service Corps would also provide unique job training opportunities for many Americans. The legislation encourages participating federal agencies to recruit members from diverse ranks, with special efforts to identify, recruit, hire, and train young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, the Public Lands Service Corps will seek the involvement of seniors and military veterans to serve as Corps members and mentors.

The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is encouraging the public to contact their members of Congress to share their unique stories related to service and our national parks and public lands with the goal of encouraging Congressional support and passage of the bill. In hopes of providing additional inspiration and sparking your own memories, here is my own national parks story:

In the summer of 2006, I graduated college and traveled west for the very first time. My family was getting everyone together for a reunion in Idaho.  At the time, I was not completely sure how I would use my degree, and decided to use the trip as an opportunity to reflect. It did not take long to find inspiration, and it came in the form of Grand Teton National Park. My entire life I have been a nature guy. I looked under rocks for salamanders, spent most of my days in the woods, and caught fireflies at night – but never had I experienced a place like this. Grand Teton left a lasting impression. The moose we saw as we entered the park, the snowcapped mountains that were taller than anything I had seen back east, the hike at Jenny Lake – I knew that day that I should be working to conserve these national treasures. Our national parks had inspired me like they inspire so many others. I came home and immediately began my search for a job conserving the parks, and eventually found it at NPCA.

My hope is that the Public Lands Service Corps provides a similar inspiration for other people. By fostering greater service opportunities in our national parks and public lands, Congress and the Administration will help to protect and enhance our heritage while strengthening our economy and inspiring the next generation of public land stewards to step forward and take their rightful place at the conservation and preservation table.

Please contact your members of Congress to share your own stories about service, and the opportunities to give back to our national parks and public lands, which have inspired so many of us: http://act.npca.org/campaign/digin?source=adv_sc09_blog

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