America’s federal lands and waters face a daunting $18.62 billion backlog of deferred maintenance – resulting from years of inadequate attention to maintaining buildings, trails, roads and other infrastructure. The problems caused by this backlog are felt daily, and the situation adversely impacts parks, visitors and surrounding communities. The 2017 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects Report reports that 331 million visitors to national parks spent $18.2 billion in gateway regions, supported 306,000 jobs and generated $35.8 billion in national economic output. The backlog threatens these contributions. Now, Congressional leaders are proposing solutions.
The U.S. Senate’s Restore Our Parks Act (S.3172) was introduced and would establish the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” – which would allocate some of the revenues the government receives from on- and off-shore energy development to repair our national parks. The bill was originally sponsored by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and co-sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Angus King (I-ME) and Mark Warner (D-VA). On August 15, those four Senators sent a “Dear Colleague” letter calling on their fellow Senators to join their efforts, and 20 additional Senators from both sides of the aisle have co-sponsored the bill.
The U.S. House of Representatives is also taking action. Representatives Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) – Chairman and Ranking Member (respectively) of the House Natural Resources Committee – along with nearly 50 original co-sponsors have introduced the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 6510) to “establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education, and for other purposes.” They also released a “Dear Colleague” letter asking for additional co-sponsors.
The U.S. Department of the Interior released a video supporting Congressional action on the maintenance backlog, saying, “Last year, more than 300 million people visited America’s national parks. Unfortunately, many roads and bridges, visitor centers, historic buildings, trails and campgrounds in our parks need critical repairs and upgrades to meet the needs of today’s visitors. The national parks are special places of wonder. We must meet the challenge of preserving them for our children and grandchildren.”
Public-private partnerships can help overcome the backlog. These partnerships can augment public financing of maintenance and repair projects, as well as provide opportunities for current businesses, non-profit organizations, volunteers, concessioners, and other governmental and private entities to weigh in on increasing access and improving infrastructure on public lands and waters. Many projects are already underway across the country, improving visitor experiences at a savings to the taxpayer.
Congress needs to hear from you on this issue. ID your Members of Congress by visiting www.govtrack.us/congress/members or by calling the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Ask the Members representing you to co-sponsor and support legislation to eliminate the backlog now.