Priorities for the National Parks Second Century Action Coalition for FY24
The National Park Service (NPS) needs the financial resources to ensure both domestic and international visitors have the experience they deserve. 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 2021, 297 million park visitors spent an estimated $42.5 billion in local gateway communities while visiting National Park Service sites across the country. These expenditures supported a total of 322,000 jobs. In addition, America’s outdoor recreation economy supports 4.5 million American jobs and contributes over $862 billion in annual economic output (1.9% of GDP). The outdoor recreation economy grew over three times the rate of the U.S. economy as a whole from 2020-2021 (18.9% compared to 5.7%). In 2021, there were over 22 million international arrivals to the United States and research indicates that national parks were a huge tourism attraction for those visitors.
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:
Recent federal investments allow NPS to hire hundreds of desperately needed park staff, better protect parks’ historical and natural resources, address longstanding maintenance needs, ensure unforgettable visitor experiences and provide more funding to historic preservation and interpretation at park sites across the country. These investments are limited, however, and temporary. Without continued and sustained investments, the NPS will fail to effectively manage our increasingly visited parks, prepare for natural disasters, address maintenance needs, and safeguard our resources. Furthermore, base operational funding is relied upon to fund significant park functions and Organic Act requirements, such as protecting natural resources—increasingly difficult with the diffusion of invasive species and the impacts of climate change—and managing a park’s cultural resources. While the structuring of the NPS budget includes, in effect, for internal grant making to parks for facilities (e.g. lodges, roads, and other “hard” infrastructure), the NPS base budget has comparatively little funding for natural and cultural resources. Increasing funding for these two foundational aspects of our national parks as well is imperative.
Request: We support $3.1 billion for the NPS Operations Account to continue progress to bring back park rangers and other staff to better manage our national parks. Additional funding must support investments for natural and cultural resources.
Parks Deferred Maintenance
The Great American Outdoors Act, which created the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund, is an instrumental step toward addressing existing priority repairs within our national parks over five years. Funding is directed to high priority deferred maintenance and repair projects, including restoration of historic buildings at Hot Springs National Park, improvements to historic structures at Freedom Riders and Birmingham Civil Rights National Monuments, and campground upgrades at Yosemite National Park. However, with a $22 billion backlog for the NPS, much more is needed to ensure our parks can continue to welcome millions of visitors each year and protect the natural and cultural resources that tell our nation’s history.
Request: Extend the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund which sunsets in 2025.
In addition to addressing the current backlog of maintenance needs, investments must be made to ensure that NPS’ repair backlog does not continue to grow. Therefore, 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. The cyclic maintenance and repair and rehabilitation accounts are encompassed in the operations account request above, but line-item construction is under the construction account.
Request: We support at least $145 million for line-item construction to repair and maintain park infrastructure.
Housing Improvement Program
More resources are needed for the Housing Improvement Program to directly address employee housing that desperately needs repair. The NPS provides housing in 216 and the average age of the 5,513 housing units is 60 years. Many units are at or beyond their lifecycle and must be rehabilitated or replaced. Recent investments are greatly appreciated, but much more is needed.
Request: We support at least $15 million for the Housing Improvement Program to continue to address this urgent need.
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.
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, 2024. 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 $355 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 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.
Park Transportation Funding
The National Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Project Program provides funding for the construction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of nationally significant transportation projects within, adjacent to, or accessing federal and tribal lands. The program is authorized at $300 million through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. To qualify, projects must cost at least $12.5 million with priority for projects that are equal to or exceed $50 million. Full appropriations at $300 million will allow will help the National Park Service repair, maintain, or upgrade transportation assets throughout the country such as repair the Sunrise Road in Olympic National Park or electrify the aging Valley Shuttle Buses at Yosemite National Park.
Request: We support $300 million per year for the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations 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 $58 million for the National Scenic Byways Program in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations 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
Friends of Acadia
International Inbound Travel Association
National Park Partners of Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Moccasin Bend
National Parks Conservation Association
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Public Lands Alliance
Rocky Mountain Conservancy
Skal International USA
Student Conservation Association
Western States Tourism Policy Council
Washington’s National Park Fund
Wild Rivers Conservancy
For more information, contact Emily Douce at 202-510-2337 or ed****@np**.org