Restore our parks
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There’s a reason National Parks have often been called America’s best idea. Since Yellowstone became the first-ever national park in 1872, we have developed a park system that is the envy of the world. But for decades now, through inconsistent and insufficient funding, we have allowed these unique national treasures to wither on the vine, threatening their survival for current and future generations to enjoy.

Our parks are more than just beautiful – they tell our story. Across our National Park System of 417 parks and more than 84 million acres unfolds the incredible history of America. Sites as diverse as Gettysburg National Military Park, Shenandoah National Park, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park encompass spectacular historic, cultural, and natural resources that tell the stories of remarkable people and events.

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We have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for the experiences our parks provide and the historic and cultural sites they include. Indeed, they are some of our nation’s most popular attractions. Last year, the system received more than 330 million peoplenearly matching 2016’s record-setting totals. In 2015 alone, visitor generated spending impacts totaling nearly $17 billion in nearby communities – supporting 295,300 jobs and providing a $32 billion boost to the national economy.

But as Secretary of the Interior Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeZinke must change direction and support conservation Energy development will likely land one bird on the Endangered Species list Montana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone MORE has stated, we are loving our parks to death. Our demand for them, coupled with chronically erratic public funding, has resulted in a deferred maintenance backlog of approximately $11.6 billion. According to FY 2017 data, 47 percent of this backlog is attributed to historic assets—putting irreplaceable historic and cultural sites at risk of permanent damage or loss. For example, the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York Harbor, which includes Ellis Island – iconic symbols of American freedom and immigration respectively – have repair needs of over $160 million. In the absence of sufficient and reliable funding over time, the condition of these assets will continue to deteriorate and become more expensive to repair and preserve in the future.

Thankfully, in recent weeks, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate that promises to bring real relief to strapped National Parks and create reliable and dedicated funding. Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (R-Ohio), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerKey House Dem's objections stall intel bill as deadline looms Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE (D-Va.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.), and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Restoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks MORE (I-ME) introduced the Restore Our Parks Act in the Senate while House Natural Resource Committee

Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOne year later: Puerto Rico battles with bureaucracy after Maria Land and Water Conservation Fund is good for business Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands MORE (R-Utah) along with Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and 50 other original co-sponsors introduced the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act in the House. Both bills represent a strong step forward in the effort to fix our parks.

The legislation brings together the best components of previously introduced park maintenance bills. It would establish a federal fund in the U.S. Treasury—named the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund”—that would direct funds specifically to parks’ maintenance backlog for the next five years. Contributions to the fund would be capped at $1.3 billion annually and would stem from 50 percent of federal mineral revenues—including royalties from on-shore and off-shore oil, gas and coal, as well as renewables, that are not already allocated by law to other programs. Reliable and dedicated funding that provides certainty for park units to undertake high priority repairs is an essential component of any solution to deferred maintenance.

Solving our national parks’ dire deferred maintenance problem does not just preserve these American assets for our children and grandchildren, it helps sustain local economies too. According to an analysis by the Cadmus Group, fully addressing the national park maintenance backlog has the potential to generate an additional 110,000 infrastructure-related jobs. 

As the National Park Service enjoys its second century of operation, we commend the bipartisan bill sponsors and co-sponsors and encourage all lawmakers to show their leadership by adding their name in support. Critical investments in our national parks will sustain our nation’s rich heritage of natural, cultural and historic resources and generate lasting economic vitality for communities throughout the nation. Our best idea can get even better.

Stephanie Meeks is the president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the co-author of The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America’s Communities