Noteworthy

  • February 04, 2019

National Parks Require Restoration

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An expansive 100-year-old red brick waterfront building at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has a new role. The former warehouse and cannery is now a boutique hotel, thanks to an innovative National Park Service leasing program.

Innovative Partnerships Help National Parks Fund Repairs

For years, a large 19th-century house in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park stood empty, with cracked and chipped paint, a leaking roof, and ivy growing through its walls.

In 2005, a local Montessori school board asked the National Park Service (NPS) about leasing the home and its surrounding 3.5 acres to house a new school. The school wanted to take advantage of NPS’ historic leasing program, which rents park properties to private businesses in exchange for their upkeep and repair. In return for a favorable 40-year lease, the board spent more than $4 million to refurbish the property. Five years later, the Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge opened its doors to preschoolers, with the freshly painted home now a library and parent meeting room and the accompanying barn—once full of aging wood stalls—transformed into six brightly lit classrooms.

The school is just one example of how the historic leasing program is leveraging partnerships with organizations and private companies to help address a maintenance backlog in the National Park System that’s estimated at $11.6 billion. Since 2015, The Pew Charitable Trusts has worked to raise awareness about these needed repairs and help implement long-term solutions to address the challenge. Much of this deferred maintenance is for roads, trails, and other infrastructure, but nearly half is for historic sites, including more than 6,600 buildings. Repairs range from resealing windows and doors to extensive overhauls, such as replacing heating systems and resolving structural issues. In exchange for the restorative work, NPS has lowered or eliminated rental costs for some of these properties and provides leasing partners some latitude over how they can be used.

The most inventive may be a brewery, the first one allowed in a national park.

In 2013, businesswoman Rose Schweikhart signed a lease that allowed her to transform one of Hot Springs National Park’s ornate public bathhouses into Superior Bathhouse Brewery. For decades, a lack of maintenance funds had kept all but one of the park’s bathhouses, located in Arkansas, closed to visitors. NPS split the repair costs with Schweikhart: The park installed fire alarms and roof repairs and undertook stabilization work, while she spent close to $1 million to overhaul the interior.

“It costs a lot to maintain these buildings,” Schweikhart says. She credits NPS for preserving the building and is thankful that she could put her own spin on it to “give a building a whole new purpose.”

The brewery is the only one in the world to craft beer using hot springs—in this case, the 144-degree local water. But it’s also providing something more valuable than beer: revenue for the local community.

A 100-year-old warehouse fronting the waterfront at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has been similarly given a new lease on life. The brick building, located between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., once served as the Del Monte Cannery—the world’s largest fruit and vegetable factory at the time. More recently, NPS had used it to store nautical gear.

In August 2003, the historic building took on a new identity: the Argonaut Hotel. As with the brewery and school, the hotel’s owners agreed to address the building’s deferred maintenance. Part of the building now houses a 10,000-square-foot visitor center with exhibits on the area’s seafaring history and an auditorium for educational events.

As with the other partnerships, the lease is not only reopening the doors of a nationally significant property, it’s also removing maintenance from park service balance sheets.

These partnerships, and others across the National Park System, were made possible by passage of the Historic Preservation Act in 1966, which has allowed NPS to preserve historic buildings through cooperative agreements with private or nonprofit partners. While modest in size, this program was instrumental in developing 160 leases in more than 340 buildings and generating more than $9.3 million in fiscal year 2017.  

Pew advocates for consistent and reliable funding for needed repairs at park sites, and it recognizes historic leases as another tool to help achieve this goal. Marcia Argust, director of Pew’s restore America’s parks initiative, says, “These leases are helping to address NPS’ repair backlog—and restore buildings of national importance.”

—Anne Usher

Latest Findings on Dental Pain and Opioid Use 

Prescriptions to alleviate dental pain continue to play a part in the nation’s opioid epidemic.

While dentists have written a declining portion of all opioid prescriptions in recent years, two recent studies in The Journal of the American Dental Association highlight the need for caution.

One, which assessed prescribing patterns of dentists caring for patients with private insurance, found that the rate of opioid prescriptions per 1,000 patients rose from 131 to 147 from 2010 to 2015. The largest increase (nearly two-thirds) was for 11- to 18-year-olds.

For all age groups, nearly one-third of the opioid prescriptions written by dentists were for nonsurgical visits. The researchers suggested that dentists could prescribe non-opioid pain relief in more of these instances.

Another study in the journal looked at Medicaid dental patients who sought outpatient care and found that from 2013 to 2015, almost a quarter of them filled an opioid prescription. Emergency department health care providers were much more likely to prescribe opioids to patients with dental conditions; 38 percent of patients who received care in an emergency department filled an opioid prescription, compared with 11 percent who went to the dentist. The data suggested that emergency health care practitioners and dentists diagnose oral health problems differently, which can lead to unnecessary opioid use.

“These studies underscore opportunities to reduce inappropriate prescribing of opioids while still ensuring that patients have access to effective pain management,” says Jane Koppelman, who directs research for Pew’s dental campaign. She notes that a 2016 statement from the American Dental Association (ADA) on the use of opioids in treatment recommends that dentists prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory analgesics as the first-line therapy for acute pain.

More recently, the ADA released an interim policy that supports mandatory continuing education for dentists on prescribing opioids. The policy also backs statutory limits on opioid dosage and the length of time for prescriptions—no more than seven days—which are consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The interim policy also calls for dentists to take advantage of state prescription drug monitoring programs, which can help inform prescribing decisions and stem the misuse of prescription opioids.

—Daniel LeDuc

‘New Age’ Beliefs Common Among Americans

Trust Magazine

Most American adults self-identify as Christians, but many of them also have what are sometimes characterized as “New Age” beliefs—including a belief in reincarnation, astrology, psychics, and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects like mountains or trees. Many religiously unaffiliated Americans hold these beliefs as well, according to an analysis released by the Pew Research Center in October.

Overall, roughly 6 in 10 American adults accept at least one New Age belief. Specifically, 4 in 10 believe in psychics and that spiritual energy can be found in physical objects, while somewhat smaller shares believe in reincarnation (33 percent) and astrology (29 percent).

“New Age beliefs are not necessarily replacing traditional religious beliefs or practices,” says Claire Gecewicz, a research analyst at the center. “While 8 in 10 Christians say they believe in God as described in the Bible, 6 in 10 believe in one or more of the four New Age beliefs analyzed in the findings, ranging from 47 percent of evangelical Protestants to roughly 7 in 10 Catholics and Protestants in the historically black tradition.”

Moreover, religiously unaffiliated Americans (those who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular”) are about as likely as Christians to hold New Age beliefs. However, atheists are much less likely to believe in any of the four New Age beliefs than agnostics and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Just 22 percent of atheists believe in at least one of four New Age beliefs, compared with 56 percent of agnostics and 8 in 10 of those whose religion is “nothing in particular.”

Americans who consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious also tend to accept at least one New Age belief. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults in this category hold one or more of these beliefs, including 6 in 10 who believe spiritual energy can be located in physical things and 54 percent who believe in psychics. And among those who say they are religious and spiritual, 65 percent espouse at least one New Age belief.

Americans who reject both the religious and spiritual labels also are more likely to reject New Age beliefs. Roughly 3 in 10 or fewer in this group believe in psychics, reincarnation, astrology, or that spiritual energy can be found in objects. And less than half (45 percent) affirm one or more of these beliefs.

—Demetra Aposporos

Who’s Not Finishing College in Philadelphia?

A woman gazes out at the Center City skyline of Philadelphia, where 17% of residents have earned some credits towards a college degree but have not yet completed one.

Seventeen percent of Philadelphians age 25 or older—about 176,000 people—have earned some credits toward an associate or bachelor’s degree but have not attained either one.

That’s according to an analysis from Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative, which also found that nearly three-quarters of city residents who haven’t finished college—about 127,000—are at least 35 years old, based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2016. Thirty-nine percent live in households with children under the age of 18, and 70 percent of those with jobs work 40 hours a week or more.

Age, parental responsibilities, and full-time work are among the factors that make it difficult to find time for classes, according to research from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. And the National Center for Education Statistics reports that college noncompleters nationwide borrow more on a per- credit basis than do those who graduate within six years.

In addition, Philadelphians with some college credits but no degree are disproportionately black and female compared with the city’s overall population. About 8 percent are veterans. And while the percentage of residents who haven’t completed college is about the same as in other major cities, Philadelphia has the greatest proportion of adults who have never attended college—49 percent—among the 15 largest U.S. cities.

“Philadelphia has a low percentage of adults with higher education degrees—34 percent, compared with 53 percent in Boston and 60 percent in Washington. And that’s often cited as an important factor in explaining the city’s lackluster economic performance over the past several decades,” says Larry Eichel, who directs the research initiative. “Reducing the ranks of the noncompleters could help address that.”

In Philadelphia, noncompleters fare better, in terms of both employment and household income, than residents who have never attended college but not as well as residents with a college degree.

Sixty-seven percent of Philadelphians ages 25-64 with some college credit but no degree are employed, according to the census. That percentage is lower than for residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher (83 percent) or with an associate degree (76 percent) but higher than for those with a high school diploma or less (52 percent).

In terms of income, 18 percent of college noncompleters live in households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more. The comparable percentages are 23 percent for those with associate degrees, 42 percent for people with bachelor’s degrees or more, and only 11 percent for those with high school educations or less schooling.

—Daniel LeDuc