U.S. Starving Its National Parks
By Mary Martin, member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Originally posted in Record Searchlight.
Millions of Americans and international visitors have formed their own stories in our national parks, rooted in wonder. Years ago, at the base of Yosemite Falls, I watched my daughter and her close-knit group of friends grow in their passion for nature at the park where I met and eventually married my husband. Our national parks provide us with priceless memories and inspiration, and yet, these magnificent places are struggling from years of inadequate funding due to inaction by Congress.
Across the country, our national parks face an enormous $12 billion backlog of overdue repair projects, and this needs to change.
California is not alone, but my experience with parks here outlines the challenge. As former superintendent of Lassen Volcanic and Mojave National Parks, the larger challenges I faced during my years with the National Park Service were rooted in underfunding of our national treasures, which led to an ever-growing backlog of maintenance projects. Lassen contributes nearly $24 million to the nationwide repairs backlog; and more than $131 million in unfunded and deferred infrastructure projects remain at Mojave National Preserve. Maintenance and deferred maintenance absorbs nearly 50 percent of the budget of most national park sites.
Oftentimes, visitors immediately notice maintenance needs that are unaddressed, such as a lack of routine restroom cleaning or deteriorating roads. Other maintenance needs go unnoticed, such as antiquated HVAC systems, aged wastewater treatment plants and water systems, and leaking roofs. These more challenging repairs are often higher priced projects difficult to address since many parks have competing needs and annual funding sources are inadequate.
For example, when I arrived to report to duty at Lassen Volcanic National Park, there had been no base budget increase for 10 years, preventing the flexibility needed to address even the most basic of repairs due to increasing maintenance costs.
Some years, the park received over 60 feet of snow, which called for expensive and challenging removal. One year, heavy snow destroyed a wooden walkway system at Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell, which delayed the opening of the area for months, causing the state economy to lose out on income generated from park visitation. These important walkways also protected visitors from dangerous geothermal activities, and the one at Sulphur Works has still not been reinstalled. The park service prioritizes visitor safety, but in order to keep parks safe for visitors, it needs to invest in overdue repairs to trails, walls, wiring and other infrastructure.
As a National Park Service superintendent, my years of working with members of Congress opened my eyes to the fact that many of our officials are unaware of the issue of underfunding and its impact on our nation’s treasures. I have had the honor of continuing to educate our elected representatives about the importance of national parks and funding as a volunteer with the National Parks Conservation Association.
Without effort and renewed commitment from Congress, underfunded budgets just won’t stretch to cover the basics. I worry that in these difficult times, parks will turn to commercialization to meet their needs.
As I spend time in national parks today, mostly with my daughter and grandchildren, the idea of leaving our parks better for future generations hits close to home. As this year of celebrating the 100th birthday of our national parks comes to a close, we must renew our commitment to these wonders. I ask all Americans to join together and urge our members of Congress to invest in better staffing and address the repairs backlog for America’s favorite places to prepare them for their next century of service to the Americans who own them.
Mary Martin is the former superintendent of Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mojave National Preserve and is a member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.
Originally posted in Record Searchlight.