Maine is a beautiful place to live, work and vacation all year round. Each summer we have more than 36 million visitors come to see Maine’s most popular attractions, including Acadia National Park, one of America’s most iconic national treasures. Acadia, along with hundreds of other parks, help drive many local economies — including those in Maine. For the most part, these parks are well maintained, but years of inconsistent federal funding have caused that perfect facade to crack, resulting in potholed roads, deteriorating historic buildings, eroded trails and more. Fortunately, Maine also has two U.S. senators who have made national parks a priority and their work has us on the cusp of fixing our parks so they remain viable for generations to come.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan bill was introduced called the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422). This monumental piece of legislation will address the $12 billion maintenance backlog in our national parks, as well as fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an important conservation and recreation program. The bill will enable national parks to make many of the necessary infrastructure improvements that have been put off for too many years.
I understand how state and national parks play an integral role in local economies and help drive tourism. For more than 45 years, I was an employee of the Maine Department of Conservation, and while my role was with state parks, I understand how a backlog of maintenance can affect visitor experience and resource management. For example, Acadia National Park is one of the more pristine parks in the country, yet some of its maintenance facilities date back to the late 1930s, when they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
S. 3422 has the support of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. Both senators have been tireless advocates for national parks, with King providing early leadership for the legislation and Collins lending her name in co-sponsorship. In fact, Collins said earlier in the year: “I joined Senator Angus King, Jr. and a bipartisan group of more than 50 Senators in introducing the Great American Outdoors Act, legislation to help ensure both current and future generations can enjoy the pristine beauty of our natural resources in Maine and across the country. This legislation would provide guaranteed funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and allow the National Park Service to complete much-needed repairs and maintenance throughout our National Park System.”
Having their support will be crucial to fixing our National Park System as a whole, but also it will help sites within Maine. Acadia National Park has some repairs that need to be made beyond its maintenance facility; their septic system is more than 50 years old and without upgrades will soon severely affect the visitor experience, which in turn has an impact on the local economy. Remember, each person that comes to see Acadia does not just spend money in Bar Harbor, they also take their pocketbooks to Portland, Bangor, Boothbay Harbor and Camden, among other communities, and spend money in restaurants, hotels and other visitor experiences along the way to the tune of a $6.2 billion investment in Maine annually.
Maine very much needs this legislation to become reality for future investment in the Pine Tree State. We all should be thankful that our congressional delegation, especially Collins and King, has made a priority of our tourism economy, and let’s hope this bill passes in the coming weeks.
Tom Skolfield of Weld represents District 112 in the Maine House of Representatives. He worked in Maine parks and conservation agencies for 45 years.