Lamar Alexander.  (Photo: Contributed)

Last week, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander led a bipartisan group of senators, along with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, in introducing the National Park Restoration Act to rebuild America’s National Parks.

The proposed bill would use up to $18 billion in revenue derived from energy produced on federal lands and waters to establish a special fund within the Treasury specifically for “National Park Restoration.”

The bill follows the blueprint laid out in Secretary Zinke and President Trump’s budget proposal, the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund.

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Zinke said:

Infrastructure is an investment, not merely an expense. And every dollar we put into rebuilding our parks, will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality. Since the early days of my confirmation, I’ve been talking with members of the House and Senate about how we can use energy revenue to rebuild and revitalize our parks and communities. Infrastructure is also about access for all Americans. Not all visitors to our parks have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness miles away from utilities. In order for families with young kids, elderly grandparents, or persons with disabilities to enjoy the parks, we need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitors centers. This bill is the largest investment in National Parks in our nation’s history. This is not a republican or democrat issue, this is an American issue, and I think that the bipartisan body of lawmakers who put this bill forward is proof.

“This legislation will help address the over $11 billion maintenance backlog at our national parks, including the $215 million backlog of projects in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” Senator Alexander said. “The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s greatest treasures— and it has a tremendous economic impact in East Tennessee, attracting nearly twice the visitors of any other national park.”

The National Park Service estimates that its maintenance and repair backlog exceeds $11.6 billion. In 2017, 330 million people visited the 417 NPS sites across the country. The NPS completed over $650 million in maintenance and repair work in FY 2017, but aging facilities, high visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 and $12 billion since 2010.

While National Parks have enjoyed historic visitation over the past few years, many Americans have never been to a NPS site and are unfamiliar with what infrastructure they hold. Here’s a quick look at National Park Service infrastructure across the board:

  • More than 5,500 miles of paved roads
  • More than 1,700 bridges and tunnels
  • More than 17,000 miles of trails
  • More than 1,300 campgrounds
  • More than 24,000 buildings including more than 500 visitor centers, 425 park lodges and hotel buildings, 3,870 housing units and more than 3,700 bathrooms
  • More than 1,000 miles of water pipelines
  • More than 1,500 water systems
  • More than 1,800 wastewater systems
  • More than 500 electrical systems
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