Revitalizing the Smokies

Gatlinburg (WVLT) - It's being called the largest single operating budget ever in the history of the national parks. President Bush is recommending a three billion dollar infusion into the parks system. Tuesday, federal officials including the secretary of the interior listened to your ideas on the needs of the great Smokey Mountains.

After flat budgets for years, President Bush is proposing a three billion dollar infusion into all the national parks, which would be a huge boost to the Smokies.

"This is the largest single operating budget ever in the history of the national parks," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne says.

"You will see that this is almost a two million dollar increase for the park. Two VIP coordinators coming on board," Mary Bomar says.

Officials hope the money will bring the parks up to par and so they began a series of listening sessions starting in Gatlinburg.

"Please come to the microphone. Give us your ideas."

And residents did just that.

"Leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations"

"Maintenance backlog. There's no mystery where it's created from your year to year operations budget being too low," Don Barger.

"We need to expand our interpretation education programs because how else are people going to learn about the parks," Warren Bielenberg says.

Besides operational cost increases, officials say the plan also has a 20 million dollar flex account for items like improving air quality.

"Restoration projects, removal of exotic species in national parks, bring a park up to the health that it should be," Bomar says.

Officials hope their ambitious project will be a success by 2016 when the parks service celebrates their 100 year anniversary.

"It's not an expenditure and that's why the president wants to make this investment. It reflects his love of the outdoors," Kempthorne says.

The proposal must pass a vote of congress, and the good news, according to the Secretary of Interior, the reception has been good in both houses, and both parties.

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