What is Happening to History at Our National Parks?


Harry Butowsky spent more than three decades working for the National Park Service as a historian. Here is a taste of his recent op-ed at National Parks Traveler:

While overall employment in the agency has dropped by 3,500,or 16 percent, since 2011, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the number of historians in the Park Service has taken a much greater hit, percentage-wise, dropping from 449 in 2010 to just 149 today, a loss of two-thirds.

Experienced professionals are retiring and not being replaced. Congress and the administration continue to add more parks and cut funding and staffing at the same time. We cannot do more with less. We can only do less. This lack of leadership is reflected in many offices, including that of chief historian of the National Park Service, a position that was downgraded after the 2015 departure of Robert Sutton from at a GS 15 to a GS 14 position.

The lack of staff service-wide demands the chief historian develop a well-thought-out and coordinated strategy to work with the parks and regional historians. National Parks Traveler has tried for more than a month to interview Chief Historian Turkiya L. Lowe for her thoughts on the current state of the Park Service’s historic interpretation mission but has been put off.

Recently, in an op-ed written by Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, and Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, the two noted that no one is at the helm of Park Service. In the column they pointed out that in the three years since President Trump took the oath of office the lack of permanent leaders in this administration remains alarming and unprecedented. No administration in recent history has had as many vacancies this far into a term. The lack of permanence at the top of these agencies means the nation is lacking established leaders in critical positions in our government — without the expertise and guidance the American people deserve.

Read the rest here.