We mark this Independence Day by a clash of symbols.
On one hand, we have President Trump’s multi-million dollar military parade rolling its tanks, fighting vehicles and jets through Washington. To help pay for it, $2.5 million was taken out of the budget for the National Park Service, which has already been decimated by cuts — including a 14 percent whack in the president’s latest budget. Those cuts hit especially close to home here in Philadelphia, home to Independence National Historical Park, which should be the crown jewel of all national parks, but which is crying out for attention and resources.
We first shone a light on the sad state of Independence Park two years ago, when we found deferred maintenance, shabby grounds, closed exhibits and shuttered restrooms. We bemoaned the condition of a place that all Philadelphians — all Americans — should consider an inspiring and sacred space: the park that embodies and celebrates the birth of our nation.
Two years later, conditions are slightly improved, primarily because a local landscaping company donated $300,000 worth of landscaping and plantings. BrightView Landscapes, a national firm based in Blue Bell, recently replaced nearly 100,000 square feet of damaged sod, and replaced dried out vines and empty planters on Independence Mall with vibrant greenery. This act of philanthropy is notable. On one hand, we wish more companies would step up to help; on the other, isn’t it our own civic responsibility to care for this important asset?
On the whole, as Philadelphia magazine recently pointed out, Independence Park is still in woeful shape. Too many exhibits and buildings are closed, as the park struggles with $51 million in deferred maintenance.
Still, as the visitor numbers prove, people are hungry for the story of our nation and the symbols of its beginnings. Independence Park saw 5 million visitors in 2017, and 4.5 million in 2018.
That hunger is mirrored in our national park system. According to a recent report in USA Today, the number of visitors to the national parks have reached record numbers; 318 million visits in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of Park Service rangers has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2005. We love to visit our national parks. We need to love them in ways that make a difference, like demanding that more of our tax dollars go toward maintaining them.
Congress has recently introduced a bill that would allocate money for the backlog of repairs to Independence Park and parks across the country. The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, cosponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans, would establish a fund from revenues from oil, gas, coal or alternative energy development on federal land and water to deal with the staggering backlog of repairs and maintenance.
Two years ago, reflecting on the potential for Independence Park, we pointed out “As democracy itself seems increasingly under stress, it’s time to create an inspiring and uplifting experience that not only provides a coherent narrative of our founding, but inspires the next chapters of our democracy and our future.”
Those words are truer than ever. And today, of all days, we should take them to heart.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer