National Park Service leaders are planning a two-day summit in mid-July at a private resort in Utah. The cost to us taxpayers to pay for this national meeting is estimated at a nice, round $1 million.
That will cover travel, room and meal expenses for about 400 park superintendents and other officials who plan to attend, a list that includes Park Service Director Mary Bomar, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and, for some reason, the governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman.
This million-dollar meeting, of course, comes at a time when most Americans are carefully tracking every penny. People are worried about the economy. The unemployment rate is rising. The price of food and gas and other goods is, too. In Missoula, gas prices have topped $4 a gallon for regular unleaded, and a loaf of regular bread will set you back $3.50.
This ill-timed meeting also comes after the park service has complained for years about a lack of funding to carry out their mission. Parks across the nation have cut educational programs and visitor services in order to meet shrinking budgets.
The meeting is drawing fire from folks both inside and outside the park service, with critics saying it amounts to a back-slapping party for political leaders who were appointed by President Bush and so won't be around once Bush's term ends in another few months. Those in favor of the meeting point out that they haven't gotten all the nation's park superintendents together in 20 years, and it's a valuable opportunity for them to talk face-to-face.
And what do they plan to talk about? According to an Associated Press story, they will be discussing "how to reconnect Americans with their park system, develop new leaders for the system and highlight plans for the system's 100th birthday in 2016."
Seriously, they couldn't have made a couple of conference calls instead?