Congressional passage of the National Park Service Centennial Act in December 2016 provided much deserved recognition of the significant financial challenges our national parks face. Rounding out the 100th anniversary year of the park service, this new law helps our parks begin to chip away at their staggering $12 billion backlog of infrastructure repairs.
What’s on this $12 billion list? Everything from crumbling marble and masonry on the Lincoln Memorial to a faulty waterline across the Grand Canyon that provides drinkable water for millions of visitors each year.
Shenandoah National Park’s portion of the $12 billion pie is about $90 million. Our park’s maintenance backlog includes eroding hiking trails, historic structures in disrepair, and electrical and wastewater treatments systems in dire need of upgrades: a $90 million “to-do list” in this crown jewel of the national park system that welcomes some 1.3 million visitors a year.
Despite these financial struggles, our national parks continue to shine. And they also pump significant revenue into our economy.
Visitors to Shenandoah National Park spend more than $85 million in surrounding communities and support thousands of jobs in the public and private sectors. Nationwide, parks serve more than 300 million visitors annually who spend $17 billion in communities within 60 miles of national park sites, helping to support nearly 300,000 jobs and infusing $32 billion to the U.S. economy.
Considering the economic boost national parks provide, shouldn’t we be investing in them more heavily?
Unbelievably, the entire National Park Service budget makes up just 1/14th of 1 percent of the federal budget.
Yes, Congress approved an additional $90 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to address the $12 billion list and an additional $28 million for roads and transportation-related deferred repairs and maintenance. While these increases will enable Shenandoah and other national parks to address more of their most critical requirements, the deferred maintenance backlog will continue to grow.
The centennial year of the National Park Service in 2016 renewed America’s (and the world’s) love for these magnificent places. Across the country, parks saw significant increases in visitation.
And while park employees embraced these 300 million visitors, they also braced themselves for the uptick in wear and tear on trails, roads, and facilities — and the lack of funding to keep pace with it.
President-elect Trump has indicated his intention to invest significantly in American infrastructure. As owners and stewards of these great places, American citizens should urge their congressional leaders to direct a sizable portion of this funding to national parks. We must support parks to a level that reflects their full value to our country.
Susan R. Sherman is president of the Shenandoah National Park Trust
A visitor to Old Rag Mountain looks over the valley and ridge of Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
Photo credit: The Free Lance-Star