Washington’s backward funding: How national parks are encouraged to defer maintenance
Restoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress
There comes a time when homeowners can no longer ignore the leaky roof, broken heating and A/C unit, outdated plumbing system, or sagging floorboards in their house.
Congress seems to be reaching this point with the much-needed repairs within national park units across the country - a list that has led to a backlog of deferred maintenance needs totaling nearly $12 billion - with the introduction of and strong bipartisan support for, legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Restore Our Parks Act in the Senate and the similar Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act in the House would begin to address the backlog in our National Park System by directing $6.5 billion in dedicated annual funding over five years to priority deferred maintenance needs. Each bill aims to preserve our nation's history, provide continued safe access to recreation, create new jobs and protect local economies that depend on park visitation.
For decades, facilities have aged, visitation has increased in many parks and maintenance funding has been inadequate - a combination that has caused the backlog to accrue in many of the 400-plus sites that the National Park Service manages, including the Statue of Liberty National Monument; Gettysburg National Military Park; the Thomas Jefferson Memorial; Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks; and dozens of smaller but equally important park units.
Now, deteriorating historic buildings, eroding trails, outdated water and electrical systems, unsafe roads, disintegrating monuments and timeworn campgrounds, waterfronts and visitor centers need repairs. These problems affect visitor access and safety and could have a negative impact on locales that depend on the billions of dollars that hundreds of millions of visitors spend each year during their time in park sites.
There is a precedent for bold congressional action to protect the parks. Fifty years ago, public outrage at the state of our parks prompted Congress to invest nearly $1 billion to update park facilities through an initiative called Mission 66. Now Congress is again listening to the thousands of local, state and national organizations that are calling for consistent annual funding to ensure that our parks are preserved for generations to come.
The Restore Our Parks Act and Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would be financed by royalties from energy development on federal lands that aren't already obligated under law to other programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Historic Preservation Fund. The two bills, led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Angus King (I-Maine); and Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), are an opportunity for this Congress to show it can reach common ground for the good of the public, the economy and national park resources. Based on the strong bipartisan leadership and support behind the bills, now is the time to move them forward in Congress and on to the president's desk.
In a year of scant bipartisan victories, enactment of legislation to restore America's national parks would stand as a reminder to voters that lawmakers can still work together. The historic, recreational and natural resources within the National Park System are part of our collective heritage. Congress should ensure that inheritance is not squandered through neglect.
Tom Wathen leads The Pew Charitable Trusts' ocean and lands conservation projects in the United States and Marcia Argust directs Pew's restore America's parks campaign.