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Donors to help on upgrades for 100th anniversary of National Park Service

SAN FRANCISCO— Private donors are ready to hand over
millions of dollars to spruce up some of the nation's most
cherished parks in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the
National Park Service, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said.

Congress has yet to approve the Bush administration's plan to
celebrate the park system's centennial by leveraging taxpayers'
funds to attract philanthropists' money for repairs and upgrades to
the country's wildlands.

But corporations, nonprofits and visitors' groups already have
pledged more than $300 million to restore trails through Yosemite
National Park's wetland meadows and crocodile habitat in Florida's
Everglades, two proposals included on a select list of 201 priority
anniversary projects unveiled Thursday.

"Working with the parks' partners allow us to take a giant leap
toward the parks of tomorrow,'' Kempthorne said. "This is our
opportunity as the current stewards to do our part.''

The national parks have long suffered from a budget shortfall,
resulting in a long backlog of maintenance and preservation needs.

The Centennial Challenge project aims to fill in some of those
gaps through a matching grants program projected to fetch $1
billion in private funds. That's separate from the $1 billion in
operational funding President Bush has proposed adding to the
national parks' budget over the next decade.

The special anniversary projects announced Thursday won't become
final unless Congress approves a spending plan for the parks. A
spending bill is awaiting approval in the Senate Appropriations
Committee.

Landing a spot on the priority list puts Yosemite National Park
closer to making repairs on an overlook fronting Half Dome, the
granite formation that rises more than 4,000 feet above the valley
floor, said park Superintendent Michael Tollefson

"Our trail around Yosemite Valley is an absolutely beautiful
way to see the park, but on the busiest days of the summer use on
that trail is almost nonexistent because it's so degraded,''
Tollefson said. "This will help us make sure the visitor has the
best experience.''

At St. Louis' Gateway Arch, park officials hoped to use the new
funds to start a "Parkpalooza'' educational program to reach youth
through multimedia stations scattered throughout the Jefferson
National Expansion Memorial.

"The last big heady time for the park service like this was in
the 1950s, when they built up the infrastructure to serve the
growing population and the car culture,'' said Frank Mares, deputy
superintendent. "It's a real exciting time to be working in the
parks.''