Legislation to address national park maintenance backlog closer to reality

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among those that would benefit from the Restore Our Parks Act. (Photo: Bob Butters)

Authored By Staff report

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among those that would benefit from the Restore Our Parks Act. (Photo: Bob Butters)

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) stated last week that a new bipartisan bill to help pay for nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance at our national parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the single best way to fix our national parks so Americans can enjoy them.

“This legislation could do more to restore national parks than anything that has happened in the last half-century, and the reason we need to restore them is so Americans can enjoy the 417 sites—from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Grand Canyon to Yosemite – for generations to come,” Alexander said. “This compromise bill will greatly reduce the deferred maintenance backlog in our parks and prevent situations such as with the Look Rock Campground on Chilhowee Mountain in the Smokies, which once was visited by 5,000 families a year, but has been closed for repairs for five years. And this is just one example of how the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog negatively impacts visitor experiences across the country.”

More from Alexander:

“Too many roads, trails, campgrounds and visitors centers are in bad shape, and American families spending their vacations in our national parks are disappointed and sometimes shocked to find that they are in such bad shape or even closed. The backlog of projects comes with a big price tag – one that cannot be addressed with annual appropriations alone. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the maintenance backlog is $215 million. Each year, the Smokies receives $20 million in annual appropriations. That means the backlog at the Smokies is 10 times what the park receives in annual funding. Without a new funding source, how will the National Park Service ever be able to conquer the $11.6 billion deferred maintenance backlog?”

“Senators Portman and Warner deserve great credit for their leadership in developing this compromise legislation, and I’m hopeful, with our near unanimous support, the legislation will become law this year.”

At the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources National Parks Subcommittee hearing, Alexander discussed the Restore Our Parks Act—bipartisan legislation he introduced with U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine) that would help address the nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog at the National Park Service (NPS).

The consensus proposal is the product of bipartisan discussions among the senators who had previously introduced similar bills, the National Park Service Legacy Act (Warner/Portman) and the National Park Restoration Act (Alexander/King). In addition to these four members, Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are cosponsors of the bill.

“The Restore Our Parks Act” would establish the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to reduce the maintenance backlog by allocating existing revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and are currently deposited into the General Treasury not to exceed $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

Alexander said that as a result of the compromise among senators the Restore Our Parks Act is gaining near unanimous support. The consensus legislation has been praised by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Restore America’s Parks Campaign, and the Outdoor Industry Association.