Time to fix our national parks
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President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value."

It is not surprising that the father of American conservation would believe this. His steadfast and tireless advocacy on behalf of our country’s natural wonders gave rise to our national parks. And even now, his legacy reminds us of our responsibility to care for places like Yellowstone and Everglades so they are there for our children and grandchildren to explore.

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Our national parks are more popular than ever, welcoming a record-breaking 331 million visitors last year, and they pump more than $18 billion into local economies across the country.

The summer travel season is a time to reconnect and explore the amazing pieces of America’s heritage. But despite their enormous popularity and importance to our nation, our parks face many challenges, including $11.3 billion in needed repairs.

Park rangers do a remarkable job taking care of our parks, but with shoestring budgets they simply don't have the resources to keep up with these repairs. And it's starting to show.

The Grand Canyon has an aging water system that breaks multiple times a year. The Yellowstone Loop Road, built in 1905 for horse-drawn carriages and not the millions of visitors that traverse the park in cars and buses every year, needs updating. And some wastewater treatments plants that support the restrooms in Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most visited sites in the park system, are in desperate need of repair.

Our national parks face these challenges in large part because Congress has not made them a funding priority, with the entire National Park Service budget making up just one fourteenth of one percent of the federal budget. In 2015, the Park Service received less than 60 cents out of every dollar it needed just to keep the repair backlog from growing. The president’s newly proposed budget for the agency, which would be the largest cut to the agency since World War II, includes even further cuts to park maintenance.

If these repairs continue to be left unchecked, it could eventually mean fewer visitors and subsequent impacts on the surrounding communities that depend on these parks for their economies.

Earlier this week, Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerModerate Democrats press for auto-stabilizers in COVID-19 aid package House Democrat says federal workforce recovering from 'a lot of harm' under Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel MORE (D-Wash.), Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), and Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertRep. Kim Schrier defends Washington House seat from GOP challenger Washington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight MORE (R-Wash.) introduced legislation to make real headway in addressing this growing list of repairs. The National Park Service Legacy Act, the House companion to an identical Senate bill introduced by Sens .Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerNew US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Democrats brace for new 'defund the police' attacks Intelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law MORE (D-Va.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanKellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead White House environmental council MORE (R-Ohio) earlier this year, would allocate up to $500 million annually, through 2047, to the Park Service from existing revenues the government receives for oil and natural gas royalties.

This bill, if enacted, would provide urgently needed relief for our parks. If left unchecked, these repair needs will only grow, which could jeopardize visitors’ experiences. Repair needs in our parks can mean fewer visitors and subsequent impacts on the surrounding communities that depend on these parks for their economies. National park visitation generated nearly $35 billion for the U.S. economy last year while supporting over 318,000 private-sector jobs.

Our parks, whether a beautiful landscape or a bridge that connects history, need our help. The National Park Service Legacy Act will put our national parks on the right track. By investing in them, we will not only help tackle this backlog, but we will make our parks more resilient and prepared to continue welcoming visitors eager to explore our nation’s most important natural and historic places.

But we can’t stop there. Congress must continue to push back on the president’s budget to make sure agencies charged with protecting some of America’s greatest resources, from the National Park Service to the Environmental Protection Agency, have the funding they need to carry out their mission and maintain our parks well into the future.

From the towering peaks of the Grand Tetons to hallowed grounds of Gettysburg, national parks represent who we are as a nation. We must all come together to ensure they are protected, just as we’ve done for the last 100 years. Only then will we heed the advice of Theodore Roosevelt and leave the next generation national parks that are “increased and not impaired in value."

Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. 


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.