As we walk over the foundations of the burned-down Lodge, watch the remains of the Sheep Barn crumble, and think to ourselves that the Gate House doesn’t look far behind, it’s easy to point fingers.
The park rangers are responsible. It’s their job to protect all the park resources, right? Well, yes, but did we give them the resources to do it? Without money to hire archaeologists to study the artifacts and engineers to ensure structural stability, without the money to re-roof structures when they need it, and replace broken windows, without the money to pay enough rangers to patrol an area to ensure vandals didn’t break in and light a fire, spray paint a wall, or steal artifacts, are you sure the rangers are really responsible for the loss?
If they didn’t have the resources, it’s because they didn’t get the resources, right? That makes it Lansing’s fault! Well, are you sure? The DNR has a finite budget, set by congress each year. That budget has to pay for all park operations, and doesn’t really include everything on their wish list, or even on their must-have list. That’s why it’s not only unused historical buildings collapsing, but also much used modern park buildings and bridges. There’s no money available for them, either.
So blame congress! Congress has the ability to give the parks more money. It just takes a majority. Congress also has the ability to raise all the money they want. They just raise taxes.
And now we get to the root of the problem. Taxes. The last couple decades, the concept of a tax increase has shifted from being an unpleasant necessity to a being a strict taboo. The first commandment of so many politicians has become “THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT A TAX INCREASE!” In fact, some have the idea that you must cut taxes when the economy’s doing poorly, but also must cut taxes when it’s doing well. All this while increasing spending to defense (at the national level), prisons, education, etc. That leaves an ever-decreasing amount of money for everything else. Any member of congress who votes for a tax increase in Michigan, no matter how desperate the need, can expect a recall campaign directed at him to immediately follow. So is it the fault of congress?
Or is a failure of us? Of the citizens of the State of Michigan? Of those who ultimately refuse to provide either the funding or the time and effort required to protect the irreplaceable resources within the state such as Haven Hill. As I travel to most other states, their state parks are free. Cleveland’s metroparks, at least equal to our our Huron Clinton Metropark system in quality, and probably ten times larger, is free, too, paid for by a 1% sales tax in the county. Here, our parks are crumbling.
There’s not a park ranger on the planet who likes to see a building collapse in his park due to insufficient funding. There’s not a park volunteer, in an organized group or not, who likes to see an artifact vandalized. There’s not a researcher anywhere, amateur or professional, who goes out in the field and knows something used to be there, but, finding it missing, doesn’t mourn the loss. The park rangers, the volunteers, and the researchers all have something in common. They all care. The approach may be different, and a few fine details of the goals may vary, but in the end, we all agree on this.
- Protect the resource from damage, theft, and loss
- Study and understand the resource in a way which does no damage and poses no risk to the resource, and encourage others to do the same
- Share your findings with anyone who’s interested
- Reach out to the public to educate them on the value of the resource
- Encourage others to join in all of the above