Priorities for the National Parks Second Century Action Coalition

For more than a century, our national parks have remained America’s favorite places, important pieces of our natural and cultural heritage set aside for future generations to explore and enjoy. In 2019, 328 million park visitors spent an estimated $21 billion in local gateway communities while visiting National Park Service (NPS) sites across the country. These expenditures supported a total of 341 thousand jobs. In addition, America’s outdoor recreation economy supports over 5 million American jobs and contributes over $788 billion in annual economic output. In 2019, there were over 79 million international arrivals to the United States and research indicates that national parks were a huge tourism attraction for those visitors. NPS needs the financial resources to ensure both domestic and international visitors have the experience they deserve.

The National Parks Second Century Action Coalition is a national coalition dedicated to promoting the protection, restoration, and operation of the National Park System to benefit the health and well-being of current and future generations. We support the following investments:

Park Operations
Visitors’ access to national parks and the quality of their experiences depends on the capacity to keep parks and their facilities open, trails and visitor centers maintained, and educational programs staffed. Between 2011 and 2019, NPS lost 16% of its staff while at the same time struggling to accommodate a 17% increase in visitation. Parks are short-staffed for many duties including education, interpretation and other visitor services; science; maintenance; resource protection and management; and more. Returning staffing to 2001 levels would require an additional $115 million investment.

Request: We support an increase of at least $115 million to the NPS Operations Account to bring back park rangers and other staff to better manage our national parks.

Park Deferred Maintenance
The recently enacted Great American Outdoors Act, which created the Park Legacy Restoration Fund, is an instrumental step toward addressing existing priority repairs within our national parks during the next five years. To ensure that NPS’ repair backlog does not continue to grow, it is essential that annual appropriations for cyclic maintenance, repair and rehabilitation, and line-item construction continue to be funded at robust levels. These programs are key to NPS having the ability to undertake the maintenance projects that will keep our national parks accessible and safe.

Request: We support robust funding levels for deferred maintenance accounts to repair and maintain park infrastructure. In addition, we support an open and transparent process on the use and specific projects to be addressed with the dedicated funding in the Great American Outdoors Act. As part of that, we support a defined process of engaging park partners in helping fund, manage and ensure the success of these projects.

Park Construction
In addition to supporting robust funding levels for deferred maintenance accounts, additional resources are needed for the Housing Improvement Program to directly address employee housing that desperately needs repair. Based on the most publicly available NPS data, maintenance for employee housing totaled more than $180 million annually in recent years. Compared with the $2.9 million NPS received in FY2020 for its Housing Improvement Program, there is still a tremendous need.

Request: We support $4 million for the Housing Improvement Program to more quickly address this urgent need.

Centennial Challenge
Continued investment in the Centennial Challenge, a program that leverages philanthropic dollars (individuals, foundations, businesses, and other non-federal institutions) with at least a one-to-one match of federal dollars, provides other necessary funding for signature projects that improve visitor experience for maintenance projects and educational programs. Recent signature projects include addressing maintenance needs at the historic Hammond-Cranz Farm in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and supporting Native American recreational programming at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Many more philanthropic opportunities await continued funding.

Request: We support $20 million for the Centennial Challenge program for projects and programs that improve and modernize our parks.

Natural Resource Accounts
Preservation of natural resources, unimpaired, lies at the core of the NPS mission and a unit’s base budget should cover its natural resource management needs. Many units already stretch their base funding to try to cover all priorities, but increased park visitation compounded with the challenges of a changing climate have created significant management challenges in natural parks across the National Park System. The current NPS funding streams are limited in project eligibility, extremely project-based and highly competitive due to a lack of funding. Furthermore, these current funding streams generally do not support the baseline monitoring and research needs that parks require to develop scientifically sound adaptive management strategies.

Request: The amount of funding for natural resource management should be increased significantly and should prioritize those parks that are experiencing impacts due to climate change, such as proliferation of invasive species, loss of native biodiversity, and accumulation of hazardous fuels.

Reauthorize Fee Authority
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) authorizes NPS to collect and expend recreation fees to benefit the visitor experience by repairing and improving facilities at national parks, offering education materials and services, and providing law enforcement. However, the authority for FLREA continues to be extended year by year and is currently scheduled to sunset again on October 1, 2023. Unless FLREA is reauthorized a year ahead of the sunset, national parks will not be able to issue the annual pass and stands to lose over $300 million per year.

Request: We support the continued reauthorization of FLREA to ensure park visitors continue to have rewarding and lasting experiences. A longer reauthorization effort is needed with modifications that more clearly define that fees should be used to expand visitor experiences, not to operate the parks.

Robust and Transparent Communications
The National Park Service depends on local stakeholders, gateway communities and tourism leaders to support and help educate visitors to the national parks. Increased communications and proactive collaborative initiatives should be encouraged to address increased visitation and parks access challenges.

Request: We support a directive that supports and promotes robust and transparent communications at the individual park level aimed at building mutual understanding of issues and new strategies surrounding visitor access, including reservation systems, and local destination management strategies, especially at the highly visited parks.

Streamlined the Use of Cooperative Agreements 
On December 28, 2017, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget issued a memorandum that established an expanded review process for all Financial Assistance actions that obligate funding of any amount. This order created unnecessary delays in approving routine agreements held by longstanding partners with a proven track record of accomplishing priority projects in alignment with the Department’s mission.

Request: We ask for this order be rescinded and Department reverts to the old process for approving discretionary grants and cooperative agreements and allow Regional approval of cooperative agreements.

Park Transportation Funding 
The National Park System is second only to the Department of Defense in the amount of federal infrastructure it manages, including 10,000 miles of publicly accessible roads and 1,440 bridges. Transportation systems located on or operating in national parks are federal facilities and depend upon federal transportation funding. Even with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, half of the backlog remains. Additional funding will help the National Park Service repair and maintain transportation assets throughout the country such as Sunrise Road in Olympic National Park or Denali National Park Road, a 92-mile road that is the only road to access the heart of the park, both currently needing repair.

Request: We support at least $400 million per year to the Federal Lands Transportation Program and at least $400 million per year with dedicated funding for the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program in an infrastructure or surface transportation bill.

National Scenic Byways Funding 
The National Scenic Byways Program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-traveled roads and promote tourism and economic development. Several national park roads contain or adjacent to scenic byways. Resources are needed to support the program with competitive grants for states to install interpretative and directional signs and build visitor centers or rest areas.

Request: We support $325 million for the program over five years in an infrastructure or surface transportation bill.

In conclusion, national parks must receive the federal investments necessary to continue to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources of our national for current and future generations to enjoy. The below organizations, as members of the National Parks Second Century Action Coalition, support the above investments:

American Society of Landscape Architects
American Hiking Society
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Atomic Heritage Foundation
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
The Corps Network
Evangelical Environmental Network
Friends of Acadia International
Inbound Travel Association
National Park Hospitality Association
National Park Partners
National Parks Conservation Association
National Tour Association
National Trust for Historic Preservation
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Public Lands Alliance
Scenic America
St. Croix River Association
Southeast Tourism Society
Student Conservation Association
Washington’s National Park Fund
Western States Tourism Policy Council
Voyageurs Conservancy

 

For more information, contact Emily Douce at 202-510-2337 or edouce@npca.org