Interior Secretary

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt talks about national park infrastructure along side Vice President Mike Pence, his wife Karen, and Yellowstone Superintendent Cameron Sholly on Thursday.

Americans need no help when it comes to celebrating Independence Day on the fourth of July.

There are fireworks aplenty and most of us spend time around the grill with hamburgers, hot dogs and maybe a cool beer. We love our parades and you can still see some adults elbowing children for a couple of Tootsie Rolls during the festivities.

That's why spending money on a military celebration during the Fourth of July in Washington D.C., by President Donald Trump and his administration was money misspent. 

Americans didn't need help celebrating. You can hardly find any community, regardless of size, that doesn't put on a fireworks display, parade or have all the parks crowded with picnics. 

The concept for a celebration isn't bad. Sure, celebrate America. But Mr. President, we had that covered already.

Instead, we wound up spending money that could have been much better spent, especially in places like Montana. And, we allowed the President to continue with one of many false narratives, chief among them that America's military is our national story. 

Our strength has never come from tanks or bombs, although we've been called upon to use those and we've done it successfully. A better student of history would know that the war that developed from that momentous July 4 document was a rag-tag Army that fought a guerrilla war with more grit than gunpower.

That was our American Revolution, and it was a band of immigrants that rebelled. 

Instead, our narrative is our people, a fantastic melting pot of castaways and hardscrabble folks who came from all over the globe, speaking different languages and worshipping different gods. We formed this unique place that is still the envy of the world, so much so that refugees and immigrants would leave everything they have for a chance at living here. That, we believe, is the greatest testament to the strength and the character of our country, not soldiers marching perfectly.

We are concerned that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt diverted $2.5 million away from the parks to finance this production. 

Granted, $2.5 million won't magically solve the backlog of the maintenance and projects needed at America's national parks. However, if the Trump administration really wanted to celebrate America, it would instead invest in its greatest national natural treasures, its parks -- places like Yellowstone and Glacier in Montana.

We have seen a torrent of never-ending stories about the increased usage in the parks and the corresponding increase in needed maintenance and upkeep. 

Just this year, the federal government pegged that backlog at $13 billion. So, $2.5 million would have been just a fraction of a fraction. However, with such a backlog, we believe that every dime from entrance fees and money collected in the parks should go to supporting them. 

Last month, Gazette reporter Tom Lutey outlined some of that necessary maintenance in Yellowstone: "Yellowstone National Park's maintenance backlog exceeds $500 million, with 400 miles of roads needing repairs and bridges to replace, according to the Department of the Interior."

It's been a little less than a month since Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Billings and made a pitch for the Trump administration to invest $13 billion in the backlog. But, if the administration was really so serious about it, why would it take funds away to something that wasn't necessary?

Reports from the National Park Service, said that appropriating the $2.5 million represented 1 percent of all fees collected. In other words, that's a reduction of one percent in budget, and yet park visitation continues to soar.

The Trump administration literally planned a celebration of America at the expense of some of its greatest treasures. And that's no way to celebrate our country. 

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