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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Obama critics: Take a hike

On Feb. 19, the White House launched the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, which will grant fourth-graders and their families free entry to national parks around the country.

The program lauds America’s national parks as “living classrooms that provide opportunities to build critical skills through-hands on activities.” In addition, the initiative aims to distribute informational resources that help families plan their trips and provide K-12 schools with educational materials to teach students about federal public lands.

President Barack Obama also designated three new national monuments: Pullman National Monument in Illinois, Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado and Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii.

According to Carolyn Harper, a volunteer coordinator at Saguaro National Park, Obama’s announcement came as a surprise, because the centennial of the National Park Service is not until Aug. 25 of next year.

“If Obama had waited until next year, the announcement would have been overshadowed by the presidential election,” Harper explained.

For a program that seems entirely noncontroversial, the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative has elicited a host of angry reactions. A cursory glance at the comments that follow news publications about the plan reveals that many Americans think Obama’s proposal is simply a propagation of his socialist agenda.

Several USA Today readers are outraged that the new initiative steals money from hardworking taxpayers and distributes it to people who are undeserving and government-dependent. Chicago Tribune readers offer similar sentiments, lambasting Obama for lying about the true costs of the program and wasting money on more “free handouts.” Over at ABC News, readers are questioning whether Obama even has the authority to designate federal lands; some believe that he has overstepped his Constitutional powers.

Yes, the government will fund the “Every Kid in a Park Initiative,” and no, it isn’t free. But Obama did not lie about the facts, as some claim. In fact, the White House press release itself explicitly acknowledges the costs associated with the initiative, noting that Obama’s proposed budget for 2016 includes “$45 million for youth engagement programs throughout the Department of the Interior, with $20 million specifically provided to the National Park Service for youth activities.”

Contrary to popular sentiment, offering fourth-graders and their families free admission to National Parks will not drain taxpayers’ wallets. During the 2014 fiscal year, the federal government collected over $3 trillion in tax revenue. Around 0.002 percent of your tax dollars, therefore, will be spent on educating children about the National Park Service. In fact, if you are a taxpayer who works for a hotel or an airline, or any other industry that depends on tourism, the initiative will probably be lucrative.

Those who believe Obama does not have the authority to designate national monuments should take the issue up with former President Theodore Roosevelt, who began preserving historic sites under the Antiquities Act in 1906. Subsequent presidents followed in his footsteps, and since 1920, federal courts have rejected every single challenge to the president’s authority to preserve lands under the Antiquities Act.

It is one thing to criticize the president for his actions regarding health care, immigration, welfare and defense. Such expansive and controversial programs genuinely impact the national economy, and bad policy can lead to seriously negative consequences for millions of Americans. But criticizing a plan that expands our National Park Service and offers children an opportunity to visit America’s monuments is simply an excuse for people to vilify a president they disagree with.

Those familiar with the National Park Service understand the value of the “Every Kid in a Park Initiative.” 

“By encouraging fourth-graders to visit the parks for free, [Obama] is involving youth in the National Park Service, connecting them with the environment and instilling in them a sense of pride that will cause them to become the land stewards of tomorrow,” Harper said. “This is a wonderful occasion for [the Saguaro National Park] and NPS, because it revives awareness of our unique public lands.”

Instead of attacking Obama over an action that should not be polarizing, we should celebrate the success of a National Park Service that has preserved thousands of acres of land and helped keep America beautiful.

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Elizabeth Hannah is biochemistry sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.

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