While recent national policy conversations may be focused more on what divides us, there is a strong uniting factor for the majority of Americans: we love and value our national parks.
Now is the time to turn this support into action to better protect Grand Teton, Yellowstone and national parks across the country.
During his address to Congress and the American public last month, President Trump called on Congress to pass an infrastructure bill, saying that “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land.”
There are no more beautiful lands in America than our national parks, and no better place to start rebuilding our infrastructure than fixing our parks, which face a $12 billion repair backlog. Such sentiment was echoed by recently confirmed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who has listed the National Park Service backlog as one of his three top priorities.
In the namesake mountain range in Grand Teton, as well as among the stunning landscapes and places in our national park system that share the stories of our country, we see less welcome sights: crumbling buildings, roads in disrepair and closed trails. Grand Teton National Park has more than $207 million in infrastructure repair projects, including nearly $100 million in needed road work. While the impacts vary, nearly every park across the country faces infrastructure repair challenges.
Whether inspired by the National Park Service’s centennial celebration or simply through knowledge that our national parks provide unforgettable experiences, Grand Teton welcomed record-setting visitation in 2016. The more than 4.8 million visitors contributed to a 23 percent increase in park attendance over the last four years. Yellowstone also met a new attendance record, welcoming 4.25 million visitors.
Lodge owners, tour guides and others in the hospitality and recreation business rely on our national parks to keep their doors open. In turn, these businesses foster local, sustainable jobs. Across Wyoming, 7.2 million people spent upwards of $890 million in communities surrounding our national parks in 2015. Gov. Matt Mead recognizes the many values that our national parks provide, and has plans in place to focus on investing in our public lands and strengthening connections with the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.
Amid such impressive returns and understanding of the value that our national parks bring, is a continued underwhelming investment by our members of Congress. The Park Service received less than 60 cents out of every dollar it needs just to keep the backlog from growing, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
Caring for and investing in our national parks means dollars, but it also comes down to working together to find commonsense solutions. In this second century of our National Park Service protecting some of America’s most important natural and cultural resources, they face many challenges.
National Parks Conservation Association calls on Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, Rep. Liz Cheney and all of our members of Congress, along with President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke, to make funding our national parks a national priority again. It is time to speak up for them — and act for their future.
Sharon Mader is the Grand Teton program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.