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Bill aims to ease NPS' ability to work with outside groups

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National parks should have an easier time working with non-profits if new legislation passes. The Park Partner Enhancement Act (H.R. 4614) would create incentives for the National Park Service (NPS) to work with non-profits and educational institutions on projects such as improving land and programs, designing facilities and landscapes, operating interpretive programs, raising money and providing educational and interpretative materials. The bill became available online on the congressional website on Saturday, May 17, 2014.

Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy) introduced the measure. No one else has cosponsored it. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Such cooperative arrangements already exist. In fact, the sponsors pointed out in a prepared statement that last year, such organizations and volunteers donated more than 6.4 million hours (valued at $142 million) and $150 million to the parks. But he said that they “often face bureaucratic barriers, discouraging further financial contributions and volunteer time.” The legislation, he adds, will clarify what is permissible and encourage such collaborations.

The Association of Partners for Public Lands and the Friends Alliance both endorsed the bill. The alliance has contributed more than half a billion dollars to park projects. The association fosters efforts to create and maintain such projects.

The legislation would clarify NPS' ability to work with the partners. It says that in-kind contributions such as labor could could for up to half of the value of a contribution promised by a non-governmental group. This is meant to recognize the value of volunteer time. And the bill specifies that any money donated must be retained for the project until spent, not given away. But the funds could be retained over the long haul.

The sponsors hope to see NPS and partners work on everything from long-term rehab and restoration projects to writing, producing and distributing all kinds of materials such as guidebooks to help visitors understand and appreciate the parks and their programs. They could also help design and build trails.

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