Time to fix $11.6 billion national park repair backlog

As Congress finishes final business for the year, several hot-button issues await action. Important legislation will be considered that, if passed, will provide desperately needed resources to address infrastructure repairs, maintenance and upkeep of some of nation’s most prized assets — our national parks, monuments and historic sites. Several faith communities are urging Congress to consider this bipartisan action that addresses what amount to decades of decay in some of the most hallowed grounds in our nation. By restoring these sites, we uphold a spiritual core that centers our country in collective memory of our shared natural, cultural, historical and spiritual heritage. 

Our national public lands are places where people of all backgrounds should see their heritage respected and reflected. National Park Service (NPS) units like Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia and San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in San Antonio, Texas are important to telling this more complete American story. Unfortunately, public lands across the country, including these sites, have a backlog of maintenance needs.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now is the time to restore our national treasures. Aging infrastructure, years of inconsistent federal funding for our parks and increased visitation have all contributed to a repair backlog of $11.6 billion — more than triple the annual NPS budget. These deferred maintenance needs in our parks pose one of the greatest risks to ensuring these diverse historic, spiritual and cultural places are conserved for future generations.

Robust, dedicated, consistent and long-term funding to address this maintenance backlog. In particular, a robust deferred maintenance program will:

  • Create work opportunities supporting the short-term maintenance needs and long-term operations of revitalized facilities, with specific opportunities to engage marginalized communities that are currently underrepresented in the public lands workforce.
  • Improve access to our parks, monuments and historic sites, particularly for underserved communities.
  • Ensure adequate funding to rehabilitate and maintain sites that may not yet have many visitors, yet tell critical stories about our nation’s past, and diverse communities’ experience in America.

Currently, there is a bipartisan, bicameral effort in Congress to provide reliable dedicated funding to help address our parks maintenance backlog. As currently structured, the Restore Our Parks Legacy Act would create a fund to address the deferred maintenance backlog of the National Park Service and other federal agencies. The bill would direct up to $1.3 billion annually for five years from federal mineral revenues such as royalties from on-shore and off-shore oil, gas, coal and other mineral operations, as well as renewables. Renewables are not already allocated by law to other programs (such as the highly important Land and Water Conservation Fund.) This issue is one where both Democrats and Republicans agree: We support conserving the riches of our public lands.

Congress must reach an agreement on dedicated deferred maintenance funding that helps fix our parks and preserves the stories of all Americans for future generations. 

Shantha Ready Alonso is a member of the Next 100 Coalition. She also serves as executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, an ecumenical Christian organization that helps its dozens of member communions to protect, restore and more rightly share God’s creation.