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US National Parks Get Boost in Bush's Budget

President Bush is asking the U.S. Congress for a big increase in funding for America's national parks. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports at a time when the president is proposing cuts in spending for a wide array of domestic programs, the parks could get a big budget boost.

Along with the Defense Department, the U.S. National Park Service is one of the big winners in the president's proposed federal budget for the next fiscal year.

His 2008 spending framework includes a major increase in funding to cover day-to-day park operations. But the Bush administration is also looking to the future, and is asking Congress to endorse a partnership between the government and the private sector that could provide up to $3 billion for park improvements over the next decade.

It is all part of an effort to recognize the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016 and enhance America's parks for future generations.

President Bush called attention to the proposal Wednesday during a visit to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He called the park system a national "treasure."

"Our parks will have their 100th anniversary in 2016 and we felt like a vital goal for this country would be to prepare those parks, to guard the parks, to conserve the parks, to make the parks relevant to the American people in honor of the 100th anniversary," he said.

Shenandoah National Park was almost deserted on this winter's day, with frigid temperatures prompting the White House to restrict the president's visit to a rustic lodge along a scenic road.

After a meeting with park service officials, and the leaders of various private groups that support the park system, Mr. Bush spoke briefly to reporters.

The president said the federal government would place $100 million each year for the next 10 years in a special fund to improve the parks. He said it would also match a similar amount in private donations.

"We are asking the private sector to donate up to $1 billion over the next 10 years to help this park system be vital and strong, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our park system," he added. "And as our fellow citizens contribute, whether it is through foundation, corporation or individually, the federal government will match those contributions."

Although the National Park Service was established in 1916, the first national park - Yellowstone, actually opened in 1872. Today, the Park Service maintains 390 sites across the country, from massive parks with their mountains, streams and hiking trails to historical properties like the White House.