This Sunday is the 103rd birthday of the National Park Service, yet so many of the 400-plus national park sites in the agency’s care need critical maintenance and repairs. Legislation exists that would help fix this problem — Congress just needs to vote on it.
People of all walks of life and across all political ideologies love national parks — they represent so much of what is best about our country. This Sunday, August 25, we celebrate the 103rd birthday of the agency that manages these 400-plus amazing places, our National Park Service.
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But even as we honor this milestone, we know that parks around the country are in dire need of repairs. Fixing crumbling roads, worn-out recreational trails, failing water and sewer systems, and other critical maintenance issues could cost an estimated $11.9 billion in all.
Fortunately, more than 300 members of the House of Representatives on both sides of the aisle have cosponsored the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, a bill that would designate up to $6.5 billion in funding over five years to address many of these important projects, demonstrating the broad bipartisan support for our parks and their value to our country. The Senate has a similar bill, the Restore Our Parks Act, with 40 bipartisan cosponsors.
Now, we just need lawmakers in the House to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
Here are six examples of national park projects this legislation could fund. All of them would benefit park visitors and could provide work opportunities for people in park communities.
1. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Trails in Mount Rainier National Park are heavily used by visitors and in dire need of upkeep. Park staff use recreation fees to complete critical projects and address unexpected needs but are unable to tackle larger projects and complete critical assessments. The popular Skyline Trail, which provides a panoramic view of the park, needs nearly $400,000 in repairs, and it is just one example of many trails in need.
2. Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
The 92-mile Denali Park Road is the only way for vehicles to access the heart of the park. Currently, a portion of the road at Polychrome Pass is sliding down a hillside because the permafrost is melting. The park and preserve’s buildings also need repair, including its kennels, which house the only sled dogs in the National Park System.
3. Everglades National Park, Florida
The Flamingo Visitor Center access road and Pa-hay-okee Road both have significant infrastructure problems requiring expensive repairs. Visitors rely on these roads to access popular trails and overlooks at the site.
4. Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Hawaii
This former Hansen’s disease colony (also known as a leper colony) tells the story of Hawaiians who were banished to this remote site on the north shore of Molokai for contracting the infectious bacterial disease. Today, the park is continuing to use an unsafe and failing electrical system and needs significant funding to replace it.
5. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
For the past three decades, the National Park Service has been working to upgrade the park’s 254-mile Grand Loop and entrance roads from 1940s standards that are woefully inadequate for modern-day tour buses and recreational vehicles. Due to lack of sufficient funding, only half of the loop and entrance roads have been reconstructed to date, and the most challenging stretches of road do not meet the needs of visitors.
6. Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is home to some of our country’s most breathtaking cliffs, domes and waterfalls, but many of the trails to access the park’s beauty are in disrepair. More than $4 million is needed to rehabilitate the park’s bike paths, the Stubblefield Canyon Trail and the Clark Point Spur to the famous Vernal Fall — and these are just a few of the projects on the park’s long backlist of maintenance needs.
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We know national parks have motivated Congress to work together many times when lawmakers seemed to have little else to unite them. Past congressional funding has led to significant park improvements, such as the ecological restoration of Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park, critical building repairs to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., and improvements to make Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Now we need Congress to continue this work so we can all benefit from a park system we can be proud of. That would be the best birthday gift of all.
About the author
Emily Douce Director of Budget & Appropriations, Government Affairs
As the Director of Budget & Appropriations for the Government Affairs team, Emily Douce researches and advocates for additional funding for the national parks, both through appropriations and supplementary sources.