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 ZinkeTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog 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 PortmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention MORE (R-Ohio), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerUS praises British ban on China's Huawei after pressure campaign GOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls MORE (D-Va.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderIllinois House Republican leader won't attend GOP convention in Florida: 'It's not going to be a safe environment' Conservative group launches ad campaign for Rep. Roger Marshall in Kansas Senate race Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report MORE (R-Tenn.), and Angus KingAngus KingBiden opens door to supporting nixing legislative filibuster Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (I-ME) introduced the Restore Our Parks Act in the Senate while House Natural Resource Committee

Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower cites Trump tweets as impetus for California emissions probe | Democrats set July vote for major conservation bill, blaming Republicans for delay | Trump vows crackdown on monument vandalism Democrats set July vote for major conservation bill, blaming Republicans for delay Natural Resources Democrats again rebuff Republican complaints about virtual meetings 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