Time has come to rally in defense of national parks

Our national parks are America’s favorite places. We Washingtonians are very grateful to have spectacular opportunities to enjoy several national parks located within our state. From the forests of majestic Mount Rainier the spectacular Olympics and to the slopes of the North Cascades, our national parks are unique pieces of our nation’s natural and cultural heritage, set aside for visitors now and in the future to explore.

A record-breaking 331 million people visited parks nationwide last year. But while parks are as popular as ever, they are facing an incredible challenge: $11.3 billion in needed infrastructure repairs and not enough money to fix them.

Rangers and other park staff do an amazing job protecting our parks, but the sheer scope of the deferred maintenance backlog is what makes this such a challenge. Needed repairs range from unmaintained trails to crumbling roads to visitor centers built over 50 years ago are in desperate need of repair and upgrades. Some projects would cost just a few thousand dollars to fix, while others could cost hundreds of millions. While some things can be replaced, historical buildings cannot.

No park is immune to this affliction. Washington’s national parks have a maintenance backlog of $393 million. One of our most popular parks, Mount Rainier National Park, has a total of $152 million in repair needs.

Our national parks face these challenges in large part because Congress has not made them a funding priority. The entire National Park Service budget makes up just 1/14th of 1 percent of the federal budget. In fact, the Park Service receives less than 60 cents out of every dollar it needs just to keep the backlog from growing, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, and the president’s proposed budget for the agency – which would be the largest cut to the agency since World War II – includes even further cuts to park maintenance.

Recently, Washington Reps. Dave Reichert and Derek Kilmer introduced bipartisan legislation to make these repairs. The National Park Service Legacy Act, the House companion to an identical Senate bill introduced by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) earlier this year, would eventually allocate $500 million annually to the Park Service from existing revenues the government receives for oil and natural gas royalties, every year, until 2047.

This proposal, if enacted, would provide urgently needed relief for our parks. If left unchecked, these repair needs can jeopardize visitors’ experience in national parks. Continuing to underfund and ignore repair needs in our parks will mean fewer visitors and subsequent impacts on the surrounding communities that depend on these parks for their economies.

National park visitation generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016 while supporting hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs. Visitors spent a total of $526 million in Washington’s national parks last year, creating 7,000 jobs. Mount Rainier National Park alone had 1.3 million visitors in fiscal year 2016, infusing local economies with $50 million and creating over 600 jobs.

Congress created the Park Service a century ago to protect America’s treasured natural, historical and cultural sites and to ensure that Americans can enjoy these treasures. The National Park Service Legacy Act, recently introduced in the Senate, takes the right approach by dedicating needed funds to preserve our parks. Sen. Patty Murray has already signed on to the bill and I urge Sen. Cantwell to follow her example. As our parks move into their second century, Congress should seize on this bipartisan momentum to help fix our parks by approving this proposal.

We are asking everyone who understands and values the qualities our National Parks offer to please contact your elected officials and request they join us on our request.

Please save our most precious commodity, our heritage, our National Parks.

Mayor Liz Reynolds

City of Enumclaw