Editor’s note: This column appeared this week in The Hill. It is reprinted here with permission
America’s national parks are without equal. The National Park Service and its system comprise more than 84 million acres of parks and historical sites that attract 330 million visitors annually. Eight of these National Parks are in Ohio, ranging from the nearly 33,000 acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the William Howard Taft birthplace, which is less than two acres. They are all treasures to be preserved. As the economy begins to reopen, the parks will be welcoming people back this summer.
The problem is that when people head back out to the parks, they might find things are a little run-down, whether it’s crumbling bridges, leaking visitor centers, or closed trails. Why has this happened? It’s because while every year Congress has provided funding for the day-to-day activities of the parks, we haven’t provided enough money to keep up with all of the maintenance needs. Over time we’ve allowed these maintenance projects to build up, meaning that many buildings, roads, bridges, and water systems are deteriorating to the point that a lot of them are completely unusable. It’s a widespread problem of deferred maintenance that, over the decades, has gradually grown to become a huge backlog of more than $12 billion at our national park sites.
The good news is that Congress has finally acted to address this problem. The Senate just passed my bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act which I introduced with U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Angus King (I-Maine) to help rebuild our parks infrastructure and reduce the backlog of long-delayed maintenance projects in our National Park System. After it’s passed by the House, the president has committed to signing it into law.
What’s more, the Restore Our Parks Act actually supports jobs at a time when people are anxious to get back to work. In fact, the National Park Service released a new study that found that the Restore Our Parks Act will support an average of 40,300 direct jobs and an additional 59,800 jobs, for a total of 100,100 direct and indirect jobs over the next five years to go towards addressing these deferred maintenance problems at our parks.
What’s even better about this legislation is that taxpayers aren’t the ones footing the bill for these repairs. Instead, our bill creates what is called the Legacy Restoration Fund funded by un-obligated revenues from on and offshore energy development on federal lands. It won’t fund every needed repair, but it’s enough to tackle the high-priority projects that our parks can’t do without.
Thanks to the Restore Our Parks Act, we will all soon be able to see the splendor of our national parks as they were meant to be enjoyed — fully repaired and operational. As the weather warms and we all safely head out into the outdoors, I hope you take advantage of the natural and historic beauty of Ohio.
Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator from Ohio. Contact him through his website, www.portman.senate.gov/public/