ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s public parks a grade of “D+.” Despite the growing popularity of public parks and lands, chronic underfunding of our parks infrastructure continues to plague the system.
The National Park Service’s (NPS) 2016 centennial anniversary generated a new wave of excitement for our nation’s public parks. In fact, a record-breaking 331 million people spent an estimated $18.4 billion in local gateway regions while visiting National Parks in 2016, a 7 percent increase in the number of visitors compared to 2015. The 2016 visitor spending supported a total of 318,000 thousand jobs and generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy.
Unfortunately, investments in our public parks’ infrastructure remains woefully inadequate, and the NPS now has a deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion, which includes $6 billion for roads, bridges, tunnels, and parking lots and $6 billion for non-transportation related projects such as eroding trails, visitor facilities, and water and electrical systems. The NPS manages more than 75,000 constructed assets, and over 41,000 of them – more than half – are in need of repair. This summer, the House Committee on Appropriations’ Fiscal Year 2018 Interior and Environment spending bill allocated $2.9 billion for the NPS, a decrease of $64 million from FY17 enacted levels. President Trump’s FY18 budget request included $2.6 billion for the NPS, including terminating over 1,200 full time employees – a total decrease of $296 million from FY17 enacted levels.
This week, ASCE was proud to sign on as a supporting organization of the National Park Service Legacy Act, a bill that has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate (H.R. 2584, S. 751). This legislation, which was introduced in the Senate by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and in the House by Representatives Will Hurd (R-TX), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), would establish a federal fund to reduce the deferred maintenance infrastructure backlog at our National Parks. The fund would be financed using existing revenues the government collects in royalties from the onshore and offshore production of oil, gas, coal, and other mineral operations. The bill also promotes public-private partnerships by allowing the NPS to accept qualified private donations.
Access to and investment in our public parks remains a bedrock of American society and a critical category within ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. As President Theodore Roosevelt – the founder of the U.S. Forest Service and often referred to as the father of public lands conservation – said “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”
On September 27, the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks held a hearing entitled “Encouraging the Next Generation to Visit National Parks.” Hearing witnesses included Lena McDowall, the Deputy Director for Management and Administration at the National Park Service and Will Shafroth, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation, among others. ASCE submitted a statement for the record affirming the critical role that public parks play in the lives of Americans and the need for Congress to address the growing $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog at the National Park Service. The statement also provided a suite of recommendations from our 2017 Infrastructure Report card for how to make strategic, robust, and sustained investments in parks infrastructure to ensure these systems are safe, accessible, and adequately funded for future generations.
Add your voice to this conversation by sending a message to your Member of Congress asking them to support the National Park Service Legacy Act.