January 24, 2022
Dear Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Shelby, Chairwoman DeLauro and Ranking Member Granger,
We, the members of the National Parks Second Century Action Coalition1The National Parks Second Century Action Coalition is made up of organizations supporting conservation, recreation, outdoor industry, travel and tourism and historic preservation that are dedicated to promoting the protection, restoration, and enjoyment of the National Park System for the long-term benefit it offers our nation., urge passage of final Fiscal Year 2022 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills to address significant park understaffing and related operational and infrastructure shortfalls in parks throughout the country. A continuing resolution (CR) that extends FY21 funding levels for the remainder of the fiscal year would hamper the National Park Service (NPS) in protecting our nation’s remarkable natural and cultural resources and serving record numbers of visitors.
Our parks cannot afford continued CRs or maintaining vastly insufficient funding from this past year. We request the following funding levels in FY22, each reflected in the House or Senate bills:
Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
Our national parks are struggling with a substantial operations shortfall, including significant understaffing that is accompanied by an unprecedented increase in visitation. Between 2011 and 2020, NPS staffing capacity (in FTEs) eroded by 14%. Meanwhile, between 2011 and 2019, visitation increased by 17%. Parks are short-staffed for many duties including education, interpretation and other visitor services; maintenance; resource protection and management; and more. Direly needed park staff have been diverted from their day-to-day duties in order to address visitor needs like parking, maintenance and public safety. This situation cannot continue.
In particular, the National Park Service and its partners are ill-equipped to address the increasing impacts of the climate crisis—including more rapid degradation of buildings and roads, quickening spread of invasive species, increased fragmentation of habitat, and loss of resilient lands protecting biodiversity. $156 million was specifically requested to address natural resource management and climate-change related needs. A CR would impede valuable programs such as monitoring climate crisis-driven migration along the 2,194-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Acadia National Park’s Acadia’s Schoodic Education and Research Center and Invasive Plant Management Team. The coalition supports $2.965 billion for national park operations in FY22.
We also support continued funding for the Centennial Challenge program that leverages philanthropic dollars to support projects and programs that improve and modernize our parks. This public-private partnership provides necessary funding for signature projects that improve visitor experiences, address maintenance projects and support educational programs. The coalition supports at least $15 million for national park partnerships in FY22.
Coupled with the operation increases, we support robust investments for national park construction to repair and maintain park infrastructure. 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.
However, to ensure that NPS’ repair backlog does not continue to grow, it is also essential that Congress provides increased funding for the construction needs that keep our national parks accessible and safe. The coalition supports at least $253 million for National Park Service Construction in FY22.
The Every Kid Outdoors Program provides fourth graders with an interagency pass so they and their families can access national parks and other public lands for free for a year. This free access helps cultivate future park visitors and stewards while also helping to heal youth and their families from the challenges of the pandemic. Funding provides resources for program staffing for administering agencies and park-adjacent, youth-serving nonprofit organizations, to help with costs for transporting students to our public lands and for supporting youth with disabilities in our public lands. The coalition supports $25 million for the Every Kid Outdoors Program in FY22.
We also support funding the popular Civilian Climate Corps initiative that can provide jobs while protecting natural and cultural resources from flooding, making forests more resilient to catastrophic wildfire, watershed restoration. The Civilian Climate Corps Initiative will put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate. We support at least $101 million for the department-wide programs, with $45 million specifically for the National Park Service, in FY22.
Transportation, Housing and Urban Development
The over 10,000 miles of publicly accessible roads, 1,440 bridges and other national park transportation systems located on or operating in national parks depend upon federal transportation funding. Much of that infrastructure is in need of repair. The Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program can help address massive infrastructure projects needing a large investment at one time since the projects must cost at least $25 million to qualify for the funding. In a recent request for proposals, the National Park Service requested $800 million for projects throughout the country. Due to this need, the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorized the program to receive $300 million a year starting in FY22. However, a CR would delay implementation of the infrastructure bill, including likely investments to this program. Therefore, the coalition supports passage of an omnibus with $300 million in FY22 for the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program.
We also support dedicated funding for the National Scenic Byway Program in FY22. The National Scenic Byways Program, managed by the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA), is active in 52 states and territories (including Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico), and the nearly 1,300 state and national scenic byways would all be eligible for these funds. The byway designation maximizes federal investments in transportation and infrastructure by tying urban, rural and suburban communities together and serving as an economic development tool and job creator to areas that need it the most. Several national park roads contain or are adjacent to scenic byways. For example, the Blue Ridge Parkway and George Washington Memorial Parkway are both national parks and national scenic byways. Death Valley Scenic Byway is the main route to and through Death Valley National Park and Great River Road National Byway runs through Vicksburg National Military Park. The coalition therefore supports funding of at least $16 million for the National Scenic Byways Program in FY22 appropriations.
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 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.
In conclusion, we want people to continue to enjoy our national parks to their fullest and to help restore the economies of the gateway communities recovering from the continued pandemic.
NPS needs the financial resources to protect resources and ensure the visitors have the experience they deserve in parks and in nearby gateway communities. It is critical that an omnibus appropriations bill moves forward to provide these important funding increases. Our parks cannot afford otherwise.
Thank you for considering our views,
American Hiking Society
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Atomic Heritage Foundation
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
East Bay Regional Park District
Evangelical Environmental Network
Friends of Acadia
Inbound Travel Association
League of Conservation Voters
National Park Partners
National Parks Conservation Association
National Tour Association
Outdoor Recreation Roundtable
Public Lands Alliance
Rocky Mountain Conservancy
RV Industry Association
Southeast Tourism Society
Student Conservation Association
United States Tour Operators Association
Washington’s National Park Fund
Western National Parks Association
Wild Rivers Conservancy
The Wilderness Society
- 1The National Parks Second Century Action Coalition is made up of organizations supporting conservation, recreation, outdoor industry, travel and tourism and historic preservation that are dedicated to promoting the protection, restoration, and enjoyment of the National Park System for the long-term benefit it offers our nation.