Our nation is now in its second century of protecting and preserving America’s most treasured natural and cultural resources at national parks throughout the country. These are places that represent America’s natural majesty, rich culture, and vibrant history.
But as record-breaking crowds flock to our national parks, they face an incredible challenge: nearly $12 billion is needed to fix trails, historic buildings, roads, outdated utility systems, and other infrastructure, but NPS simply doesn’t have the financial resources necessary to keep up with repairs
National Park Service staff does an amazing job managing and operating our parks, but the sheer magnitude and accrual of the deferred maintenance backlog is what makes it a difficult challenge. The needed repairs are wide ranging, from unmaintained trails to crumbling roads, and from aging visitor centers – built over 50-years ago – to antiquated and undersized fire suppression and sewage treatment systems. Parks 40 years old or older, like Shenandoah, Acadia and Rocky Mountain, account for over $10.5 billion of the backlog. Some projects would cost only a few thousand dollars to fix, while others could cost millions. Continued underfunding of park maintenance will continue to deeply jeopardize the future of America’s natural and cultural heritage.
No National Park Service unit is immune to this affliction. Based on 2015 data, the nationwide National Park Service maintenance backlog is estimated at $11.3 billion, including more than $2.2 billion to repair buildings, nearly $73 million for campground maintenance, over $530 million for trail restoration, and more than $6 billion for fixing roads. The fact that National Park System receives over 330 million visitors each year underscores the need to prioritize funding for park repairs. In 2016, visitors to national park sites spent over $18 billion in local communities, generating $34.9 billion in total economic output nationwide and 318,000 jobs.
Investment in national park infrastructure makes good economic sense, yet the entire National Park Service budget makes up just 1/15th of one percent of the federal budget. In fact, the agency receives less than 60 cents out of every dollar it needs just to keep the backlog from growing.
Congress created the National Park Service a century ago to protect America’s treasured natural, historical, and cultural sites, and to ensure that Americans can enjoy these treasures. It is Congress’ responsibility to ensure the agency has the resources it needs to fulfill that mission.