NPS Retirees: LBJ National and State Historical Parks Legacy in Jeopardy Less Than One Half Year After Passing of 'Lady Bird' Johnson
Watchdog Group Objects to Undermining of Cooperative Federal-State LBJ
Site on Heels of the Death of America's First Lady Remembered for
Preserving America's Outdoors
WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In an unseemly development little more than four months after the July 11, 2007 death of "Lady Bird" Johnson, the wife of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the National Park Service (NPS) seems to be intent on undermining the United States' commitment to the memory of LBJ and the former First Lady, according to the 620-member Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR). In a recent letter to National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, CNPSR Executive Council Chair Bill Wade wrote: "The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees is deeply concerned over major changes apparently shaping up at the Lyndon B. Johnson National and State Historical Parks in Texas. They are common knowledge in communities near the park, as set forth in a recent PowerPoint presentation by the superintendent." As the Johnson administration ended in 1969, the former President and First Lady decided to donate the LBJ Ranch -- the Texas White House -- to the American people. They worked out the terms with National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog. On two conditions they were adamantly insistent: first, that the result would not be solely a national park but a partnership with the LBJ State Park across the Pedernales River opposite the ranch; second, that no fees be charged visitors for visiting the Texas White House. George Hartzog crafted the plan, and a succession of national and state park managers ensured that it worked smoothly and successfully. "This is an outrageous betrayal," declared former Director Hartzog, a member of CNPSR. He said that he had protested by telephone and letter to the present NPS Director Mary Bomar. Melody Webb, superintendent of the national park from 1989 to 1992, recalled that "the partnership worked smoothly and effectively and met with the hearty encouragement of Mrs. Johnson." The main feature of the partnership was that visitors would come first to the state park, place their cars in the ample parking lot, receive a basic orientation about the parks, and board small tour buses driven by National Park Service interpreters for a tour of the national park. The tour included the Junction School, the reconstructed birthplace of Lyndon Johnson, the family cemetery where Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson planned to be interred, the Texas White House complex, and the LBJ ranching complex. The Texas White House complex included the ranch house itself (where after the President's death Mrs. Johnson continued to live), assorted Secret Service and communications facilities, the aircraft hanger, and the long concrete runway where a smaller Air Force One landed after flying the President from the big Air Force One parked at the Bergstrom Air Force Base near Austin. The ranching complex consisted of show barns and other structures necessary for the cattle operation, together with LBJ's cattle herd. The National Park Service would maintain this herd and perpetuate its progeny as a display for visitor edification. The major changes apparently now contemplated would dissolve the partnership, in practical effect, if not formally. The ranch tours and the interpreters who drive the buses would be eliminated and the national park opened to autos and big tour buses. Without the state park as the point of departure for the ranch tours, most visitors would lose incentive to visit the state park. Moreover, the National Park Service intends to charge entrance and other fees to visitors to the ranch property, sharing none of the revenue with the state park. In the CNPSR letter to Bomar, Wade also writes: "If carried out, this operational plan would continue the partnership only in the guise of 'cooperation,' thus destroying one of the most successful examples of a partnership in the history of the National Park Service-and this when a major Service initiative is the promotion of partnerships. It would clutter the national park with autos and buses and the expanded parking necessary to accommodate them, creating an intrusion on the historic scene severely damaging to the integrity of the national park-and this when a major NPS initiative is to eliminate autos from national parks. It would also unnecessarily duplicate infrastructure that already exists in the state park. Finally, and perhaps most objectionable, the new plan would repudiate the explicit wishes of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson that a federal-state partnership characterize the parks and that visitors not be charged to experience them. It would plainly betray President and Mrs. Johnson as well as the Director who put the plan into effect, George Hartzog. If what is recounted here is indeed the intent of the National Park Service, the Coalition urges that whatever changes may be decided not disturb the basic operational pattern of the partnership. The fundamentals that have proved so successful for nearly 40 years should remain in place." ABOUT CNPSR The 620 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service with a combined 18,000 years of stewardship of America' most precious natural and cultural resources. In their personal lives, CNPSR members reflect the broad spectrum of political affiliations. CNPSR members now strive to apply their credibility and integrity as they speak out for national park solutions that uphold law and apply sound science. The Coalition counts among its members: former national park directors and deputy directors, regional directors, superintendents, rangers and other career professionals who devoted an average of nearly 30 years each to protecting and interpreting America's national parks on behalf of the public. For more information, visit the CNPSR Web site at http://www.npsretirees.org.
SOURCE Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Washington, D.C.
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