This editorial originally appeared in the Virginian-Pilot on September 9, 2018.
AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS and monuments are among this country’s greatest treasures, ranging from the majestic Grand Canyon to the more solemn sites of historic battles. These federally protected sites have been preserved to ensure that they remain accessible to millions of visitors each year, as well as for future generations to appreciate.
But keeping these sites in good shape requires adequate funding, and that money has been in short supply in recent years. The National Park Service estimates that it had a backlog in 2017 of more than $11.5 billion in needed repairs and deferred maintenance at sites across the country, with about $1 billion of that amount needed for sites in Virginia.
At a time when the nation is adding more than $1 trillion per year to its federal deficit, despite a booming economy, any efforts to increase federal spending without a dedicated source of funding demand scrutiny. But the National Park Service is an unfortunate victim of a federal budget battered by unrestrained spending in other areas and irresponsible tax cuts.
Saving money by deferring maintenance and avoiding repairs can be done for while, but it’s not a good — or cost-effective — way to manage property, whether it’s a home or a national park. The repairs ultimately must be made, and delaying them often leads to higher costs and more damage.
The $11.5 billion in needs for the National Park Service is bound to grow unless Congress finds a solution soon. In Virginia, parks need repairs to roads, buildings and bridges, in addition to work on trails, monuments, exhibits and other features.
As Bill Bartel reported recently in The Pilot, more than $420 million of the money needed in Virginia would go to The Colonial National Historical Park, which includes Historic Jamestowne and the Yorktown Battlefield. The majority of the money would be used for roads and bridges.
Nearly 20 other national parks, sites, monuments or battlefields in Virginia are on the list to receive funding, including Fort Monroe, which is seeking $2.3 million to pay for deferred maintenance projects.
“Identifying repairs needed at national park sites in Virginia brings home that we must make it a priority to secure reliable funding to preserve these national treasures in our own back yard,” said Lynn Davis of the Virginia Association for Parks.
The good news is that U.S. senators and representatives have filed bills that would address the backlog of problems. Congress has yet to act on the proposals, but they have support among both Democrats and Republicans.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, has joined Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine in co-sponsoring the Restore Our Parks Act, which would allocate revenue collected from energy production to pay for the work.
“The longer we wait to address the crumbling infrastructure in our national parks, the worse the problem gets,” Warner said.
If the Senate approves the plan, the House and President Donald Trump would have to sign off as well. But Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has endorsed the need for more funding, and this could be a rare opportunity for both sides to support legislation for the common good of the country. Adequate funding for national parks is not a partisan issue, nor should it ever become one.
Americans are justifiably proud of their national parks and historic sites, as shown by the number of visitors who seek them out each year. These sites should be well-maintained for their own protection and preservation, and to ensure that visitors can experience them in all their glory.