Our nation’s public parks are incredible economic drivers and therefore critical infrastructure systems. They create thousands of American jobs, generate billions of dollars in revenue, and sustain communities across the country. In fact, the National Park Service’s (NPS) 2016 centennial anniversary brought in a record-breaking 331 million visitors who spent an estimated $18.4 billion in local gateway regions. NPS’ 2016 visitor spending supported a total of 318,000 jobs and generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy. The outdoor recreation economy at-large is growing, too; the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 National Recreation Economy Report found that outdoor recreation activities contribute a total of $887 billion annually to the economy and support 7.6 million American jobs.
While the excitement around public parks is growing, our nation’s decades-long inadequate investment in public parks infrastructure has resulted in large backlogs of deferred maintenance, ultimately threatening the safety of these infrastructure systems and their surrounding communities’ economic stability while undercutting the ability of our nation to meet the demands of a growing population. 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.
ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s public parks a grade of “D+.” From supporting industries such as lodging and restaurants, to providing clean water to homes, to giving citizens the opportunity to partake in recreational activities, public parks – those operated at the federal, state, and local levels – play important roles in American life. Significant and strategic investments from all tiers of government and the private sector are long overdue to close the growing funding gap.
Fortunately, President Trump’s infrastructure proposal included a provision to develop an “Interior Maintenance Fund” to help address the NPS’ deferred maintenance backlog. Congress sprang into action and introduced bipartisan, bicameral bills to accomplish this goal: S. 3172, the Restore Our Parks Act and H.R. 6510, the Restore Our Parks & Public Lands Act. ASCE endorsed both bills and worked to garner additional co-sponsorship of them. Both pieces of legislation are nearly identical and direct 50% of unobligated federal energy development revenues from oil, gas, and renewable energy into a fund to be used to address the NPS’ deferred maintenance backlog. The fund would be capped at $1.3 billion per year over the course of five years. While 65% of these funds would be used for non-transportation projects, the remaining 35% would be used for transportation projects.
The sole difference between S. 3172 and H.R. 6510 is that while the Senate bill would allocate 100% of the total funds to address the NPS deferred maintenance backlog, the House bill would allocate 20% of the total funds to address the deferred maintenance backlogs at three other federal agencies with jurisdiction over public lands, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Bureau of Indian Education. The House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 6510 in September 2018, while the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee passed S. 3172 in October 2018; these bills now await votes on their respective full chamber floors. Contact Congress now asking them to support S. 3172/H.R. 6510 when they come to the floor for a vote!