National Parks Face Funding Backlog for Maintenance, Repairs
With attendance at record levels in 2016, America’s national parks appear to be more popular than ever. However, advocates for the National Park Service say a $12 billion backlog in needed maintenance and repairs could mean fewer people will be able to enjoy America’s vast network of parks and monuments.
Kimberly Pope, organizing representative with the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America program, said it will be up to the new secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, to restore the infrastructure of the nation’s 412 national parks.
“What needs to be done, really,” she said, “is that the Trump administration and our new secretary of the interior should step up and offer a budget that reflects and prioritizes funding our park system for the long run, for all of us.”
Zinke, formerly the sole U.S. House member from Montana, took over the Interior department on March 1 and said his top priority is to tackle the backlog. President Trump’s initial 2018 budget proposal calls for an overall 12 percent cut in agency funding, although it calls for an unspecified increase in parks maintenance.
Park Service staffers say much of the funding shortfall is attributable to lower-than-expected revenues from federal transportation bills and the increased cost of construction. Pope said many of the parks urgently need major repairs to roads and bridges, trail system improvements, building repairs and renovations and new vehicles to replace an aging fleet.
“It has been a real problem for a while,” she said. “In Rocky Mountain National Park, which is one of the most popular national parks in the country, just backlogged trail maintenance alone adds up to $17.1 million that’s needed to update those trails.”
Several private groups and foundations, including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club and others, are working actively to help cover the backlog, but it’s unlikely they can close the funding gap without an increase in the agency’s budget.
Pope said parts of some national parks already are off limits because of maintenance problems, and the Trump administration and congressional leaders need to rethink how they fund the system.
“I think it must be something with how they choose to fund our national parks,” she said. “I think it’s really a political philosophy. It seems to be a trend that we aren’t supporting these places and that’s something that definitely needs to be done for the future of our parks.”
Last year, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, officials said 331 million people visited national parks, a record attendance for the third year in a row.