Last week repairs on the Vietnam Memorial commenced to replace the worn, yellow grass with fresh sod, improve the irrigation system and restore the bronze fixtures around the memorial – including the flagpole, a statue of three soldiers and the base of the directories to help visitors find names on the wall. Particularly worth noting is how it’s being funded: not by the taxpayer but by a private memorial fund. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund took over the duties from the National Park Service “because of scarce funding from the federal government”, and is attempting to raise more than $1 million, half of which would go to creating a reserve to replace parts of the wall if and when needed.

James Cummings, a member of the memorial’s original architecture team said, “No one expected the memorial itself would have such an impact with the culture. There’s a plan now to take care of it.”

Interestingly, it was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund who built the wall in 1982. Boasting that it was done with no government funding, VVMF “built a Wall of honor dedicated not only to those who died, but to all who served in this war. At long last, those veterans who had been ignored were embraced, those embarrassed by their service could be proud, those neglected could be tended.”

This gets to a larger issue of the effectiveness of private property rights versus government care. It may not be the National Park Service (NPS) is biting off more than they can chew, but that th government is feeding them too much. NPS advocates and staff have long complained about the lack of resources that Congress provides in comparison to its extensive responsibilities. Both the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service estimate that the cost of NPS’s maintenance backlog exceeds several billion dollars and is rising despite increased annual appropriations. This is not an invitation for more government funding but less NPS ownership. Park attendance has been in decline in recent years, and camping in the parks has decreased, perhaps in part because of the functional obsolescence of campground facilities and also in part because some areas are dangerous. Heritage colleague Rob Gordon expands,

“According to the report the vast majority of the Organ National Pipe Monument in Arizona has been so degraded that it has lost its ‘wilderness’ character. Trash, vehicle tracks, foot trails and fire scars from illegal immigration and drug trafficking have severely degraded the Monument. Maps and images in the report make a compelling case. The National Park Service’s website for the Monument, although cryptic, is consistent with the report indicating a list of roads and back-country areas simply closed off until further notice – your park lands ceded to coyotes and their human cargo and drug smugglers.”

Returning land back to the private sector would increase environmental quality, improve safety, reduce government spending, increase tourism and serve as an economic boon. Where’s the downside?