The National Park Service celebrated its 102nd anniversary last month. As the system moves into its second century, it faces a host of threats, including climate change and pollution. One of the biggest threats, but also one of the most easy to fix, is a backlog of deferred maintenance that has put parts of some parks off-limits and threatens to diminish the experiences of the millions of annual visitors to our national parks.
Thankfully, lawmakers are working to ease the maintenance backlog, with the support of the Trump administration.
Bills pending in Congress would fund more than half of the nearly $12 billion backlog of needed repair and maintenance work at national parks and others park service units nationwide. The backlog has grown as park entrance fees and federal funding have failed to cover the cost of both park operations, and needed repairs, maintenance and upgrades.
“It’s inexcusable that we are not able to maintain these wonderful facilities,” Sen. Angus King said during a visit to Acadia National Park earlier this month. “This is going to, and it already is, spilling over into the visitor experience. This is the moment that we might be able to make [the maintenance funding bill] happen.”
Acadia National Park has a 350-item to-do list with a price tag of nearly $60 million. Replacing a nearly 70-year-old maintenance building, which sits in the watershed of Bar Harbor’s drinking water supply, is at the top of the list. Other items on the list range from fixing trails and roads to improvements to the park’s visitor center. The repairs and upgrades range in price from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who also attended the event at Acadia, referenced a recent report that showed more than 4,100 jobs in Maine are supported by tourism generated directly by Acadia National Park. The report also found that the park brings in nearly $300 million in revenue to the local economy.
“This is an economic engine for this part of our state,” Poliquin said. “It is critically important to keep it going. You have to be safe and comfortable when you come to Acadia. It is our responsibility to maintain this, and we will do it.”
To that end, both the House and Senate are moving ahead with funding bills. The bills would allocate $1.3 billion in federal funding a year for five years for maintenance work within the national park system. The money would come for oil and gas revenues.
“This isn’t a Republican issue or a Democrat issue — t’s an American issue,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said last month. “Addressing the infrastructure needs of our national parks is an investment in their future and in ensuring they live up to their world-class reputation for generations to come.” The president’s budget for the next fiscal year includes a legislative proposal to establish the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund that would provide up to $18 billion to address the maintenance backlog in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education schools. President Donald Trump also supports the congressional legislation, Zinke said.
This bipartisan support, boosted by White House backing, reaffirms the value, both financial and intrinsic, of our national park properties. Ensuring these properties are well maintained is a worthy priority.
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