New Tool Breaks Down Billion Dollar National Park Service Maintenance Backlog
As summer begins to fade into the upcoming Labor Day weekend, building support for fixing the nearly $12 billion in maintenance backlogs at the nation’s prized national parks and historical sites could become a little easier, thanks to a new tracking tool that breaks down individual state and park repair needs using federal data.
The Pew Charitable Trust has launched a new deferred maintenance tool that tracks the estimated $11.6 billion in infrastructure and other maintenance backlogs throughout the National Park System (NPS). The site’s interactive data tool categorizes repair needs by state and by parks individually, using NPS raw information acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Access to the parks, historical sites, buildings, and other transportation costs total more than $7.3 billion, including $4.1 billion for roads alone.
“Our parks are $11.7 billion behind in infrastructure, about half of that is roads,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a press conference in early August at Rocky Mountain National Park. “Our parks are special. It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue, it’s an American issue.”
“Everyone loves our parks. I think it’s time now to prioritize,” Zinke added.
The visualization tool from Pew provides a clearer sense of not just where dollars are needed, but what those dollars might be used for, specifically.
More than $238 million in repairs for Colorado’s parks includes $84 million for Rocky Mountain National Park alone. Parks in western states account for roughly 40 percent of the total maintenance backlog, or $4.6 billion. The state breakdowns are breathtaking: Alaska, $105 million; Arizona, $532 million; California, $1.809 billion; North Dakota, $52 million; New Mexico, $123 million; Nevada, $223 million; Oregon, $116 million; South Dakota, $66 million; Utah, $266 million; Washington, $399 million; and Wyoming, $702 million.
An analysis of Colorado’s deferred maintenance needs through 2017 show $68.2 million for historic structures and another $116.2 million for transportation infrastructure including roads, parking lots, bridge, and tunnels. In neighboring Arizona, the iconic Grand Canyon National Park faces $329.4 million in maintenance for water systems, roads, wastewater disposal, trails, building, parking areas, communications, unpaved road maintenance, and other improvements and repairs.
Millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs can be seen across Utah’s seven largest national parks and recreation areas, including Zion National Park ($65.3 million), Glen Canyon National Recreation Area ($63.7 million), Canyonlands National Park ($40.7 million), Bryce Canyon National Park ($27.1 million), Arches National Park ($25.6 million), Dinosaur National Monument ($15.4 million), and Capitol Reef National Park ($8.4 million).
Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park needs more than half a billion dollars–$515.8 million spread across three states, with more than $314 million for park roads and buildings.
The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act has added 19 co-sponsors to its roster since Western Wire last reported earlier in August. Forty-three Democrats and forty-two Republicans have signed on to the bill, representing a rare bipartisan breakthrough.
The bill, originally co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) would establish an NPS Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund representing up to $1.3 billion for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2023. The amount would constitute half of energy development revenues directed from oil, natural gas, coal, or alternative and renewable energy projects on federal lands.
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) previously told Western Wire that the bipartisan commitment demonstrated in the bill’s support indicates a consensus on the critical nature of infrastructure funding for NPS rehabilitation, modernization, and basic repairs.
“America’s public lands support a wide array of outdoor activities including camping, fishing, skiing and hiking. We benefit from their clean air and water, as do hundreds of species of wildlife, and visitors from around the world experience our natural landmarks and pristine wilderness,” DeGette said.
“Constantly maintaining these places is a Sisyphean task, and sufficient funding is needed to keep up with it all. This bill will help, using funds from a variety of appropriate sources. That’s something we can agree on regardless of our political party,” she added.
In addition to DeGette, U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D) and Republicans Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton have also signed onto the bill. Both U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) have co-sponsored a similar Senate bill, which also enjoys bipartisan backing.
Thirteen Republicans and twelve Democrats support the Restore Our Parks Act, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana.
Colorado’s business leaders recognize the critical part that NPS parks play in drawing tourists to western states like Colorado, and for maintaining a strong outdoor-oriented focus on jobs and local economies.
“Identifying repairs needed at national park sites in Colorado, brings home that we must make it a priority to secure reliable funding to preserve these national treasures in our own backyard,” said Jeff Wasden, President of the Colorado Business Roundtable.
“Our community and businesses count on the tourism dollars generated by visitors to NPS sites in Colorado,” said Wasden. “Colorado stands to gain 2,209 jobs from making these vitally needed improvements and I’m proud to see leaders like Senator Cory Gardner leading the charge to bring these positive economic developments to Colorado.”
A Pew analysis from December 2017 found that fixing the national park’s deferred maintenance backlog could generate approximately 110,000 jobs.