Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo: Bob Butters)

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently announced more than $256 million in approved funding to rebuild critical national park infrastructure.

The list includes projects like the rehabilitation of the Elkmont Waste Water System at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for which $2.6 million has been approved—dire maintenance and repair needs that contribute to the $11.6 billion backlog currently facing the nation’s national parks.

Roads, bridges, trails, water systems and visitor centers—even bathrooms, campgrounds and drinking fountains—are all part of this critical, but often unnoticed, infrastructure framework.

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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 Fiscal Year 2017, but aging facilities, high visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010.

“ These approved projects are more than just line items on an Excel spreadsheet. They have a tangible effect on a person’s experience when visiting our nation’s parks,” Zinke said. “Today’s announcement is another step toward eliminating the more than $11 billion in maintenance facing the National Park Service. It’s another step toward prioritizing infrastructure because it is an investment that bolsters local economies and gateway communities. And it is another step in prioritizing access for all Americans to our public lands.”

Secretary Zinke has made tackling Interior’s deferred maintenance backlog one of his top priorities. In April, he signed a memorandum of understanding committing Interior to follow President Trump’s One Federal Decision framework for the processing of environmental reviews and permits for major infrastructure projects. In March, Interior announced the Secretary’s partnership with Congress on a bipartisan bill to address rebuild and repair of National Park Service infrastructure.

Secretary Zinke also recently announced $50 million in approved funding to rebuild critical U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service infrastructure. This includes $5.4 million for facility improvements to increase access and management capabilities at North Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, one of many maintenance and repair projects contributing to a $1.4 billion backlog facing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 566 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management areas and operates national fish hatcheries, fish technology centers and fish health centers. The agency is responsible for over $46 billion in constructed real property assets that include over 25,000 structures (e.g., buildings and water management structures) as well as nearly 14,000 roads, bridges, and dams.

“For many sportsmen and women, National Wildlife Refuges are the only opportunities they have to hunt or fish,” Zinke said. “These projects have a tangible effect on a person’s experience when hunting, fishing or visiting a wildlife refuge.”

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