San Juan Island
Administrative History
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San Juan Island N.H.P. is a wonderful park, where visitors can learn and experience a variety of things. On a historical level, they can explore the diplomatic and cultural interactions of America and Britain/Canada. On the level of natural history, they can explore a variety of environments and animal species and experience unparalleled scenic vistas. Columbia Cascades Support Office curator Kent Bush accurately describes the park as a microcosm of all parks in the service and lacks only a cave or a river. [1]

From 1970 to 1990, the park staff expended effort researching its historic structures, rehabilitating and maintaining those structures, establishing basic operations facilities, and trying to re-establish the historic landscapes, particularly at American Camp. Since 1990, management focus has shifted, with an emphasis on natural resource planning and research needs. Many projects still wait in the wings with so little staff, time, and funding to do them.

How best can the park deliver on these experiences, given limited resources and staffing levels? It is a question that the park, like most parks, has been dealing with since its creation. The quest for funding and staffing is no new story to the park service, and the successful parks are ones that show large visitor capacities and the demand for services. San Juan Island N.H.P. has always had a modest carrying capacity in comparison to other parks. This factor is entirely due to its location and access to the travelling public. Despite the high level of visitation to the island, a large percentage of those visitors come for one day only and, with few transportation options beyond the town save a newly operating summer shuttle service, many visitors do not make it out to either camp.

Ask anyone in the region who has had a hand in managing the park and they will tell you that it is a fabulous park with unique stories to be told and rich layers of resources. It only makes it more mysterious why the park seems to have been treated like a stepchild inherited from Washington state. The park's master planning documentation states that the park would be run as a small park, relying on the Seattle office for support. The regional office has always been there for the park, but implementation still requires adequate money and staffing to follow through.

Alternative avenues for funding, either grants or through fee collection efforts, will continue to play a significant role in the park's future. Maintaining the current level of basic resource protection consumes the park's existing funding levels. It may fall to alternative resources to provide for development above the status quo, especially in the realm of interpretation and visitor outreach. To quote Steve Gobat, the only thing wrong with the National Park Service is that there are too many good ideas chasing too few FTEs. [2]

Current park staff feels San Juan Island National Historical Park has been able to turn the park around from a cycle that has seen low staff morale and little project funding. After a budget shortfall in 1996 and a year without any paid seasonals in 1997, the park was identified as eligible for a possible base funding increase, perhaps in the year 2000. In the new cluster order of planning, programming, and funding, park managers sense the potential for the pie to be more evenly distributed. With the creation of cluster committees to prioritize funding, managers from different parks must consider the project needs of all parks in their decision making. The concept of inter-park cooperation and involvement is becoming more and more practiced as park managers come into more contact with each other and the project needs of other parks. While the park may see a chance to compete for funding, others in the NPS believe that small historical parks like San Juan will fare no better in the face of the region's large, natural parks than they did before.

The new cluster system has put new optimism into park staff in terms of achieving planning and programming for a variety of projects. This optimism comes while the park has reached a transitory moment. The next decade will tell how far the new system will take San Juan Island National Historical Park in providing optimal preservation and interpretation for its truly unique stories and vast resources.

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Last Updated: 19-Jan-2003