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Deferred Maintenance Takes a Toll on National Parks

National Park Service sites in Pennsylvania draw more than 10 million visitors a year. (National Park Service)
National Park Service sites in Pennsylvania draw more than 10 million visitors a year. (National Park Service)
May 14, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. — As part of National Infrastructure Week, advocates are calling on Congress to fully fund maintenance at national parks here in Pennsylvania and across the country.

There are 19 National Park Service sites in the Keystone State, drawing more than 10 million visitors a year and generating close to half-a-billion dollars in local spending in 2017 alone. But years of deferred maintenance have left a backlog of needed repairs that was estimated at $11.6 billion for all parks nationally as of last year.

According to Stephen McKnight, president of the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation, maintaining the parks not only preserves their historic and scenic value, but provides a critical boost to the state's bottom line as well.

"Parks are part of our overall people and business attraction strategy, bringing in both visitors and tourist dollars,” McKnight said. “So, we consider them an important part of our overall economy."

The Pew Charitable Trusts has launched a Restore America's Parks Campaign, calling on Congress to preserve the nation's history, protect local economies and create jobs by fixing the nation's parks.

Marcia Argust, director of the campaign, said more than 180 infrastructure groups, including architects, electricians, engineers and construction workers, have signed on to a letter calling for Congress to put their members to work on maintenance and repairs.

"We're talking about historic structures, buildings, roads, bridges, trails, campgrounds, waterfronts, recreation facilities,” Argust said.

A Pew commissioned analysis found addressing the maintenance backlog facing the National Park Service would create or support more than 2,800 jobs in Pennsylvania alone.

McKnight pointed out that the longer necessary maintenance is postponed, the more costly repairs become as the infrastructure falls further into disrepair.

"A solid maintenance plan year-over-year is important to avoid major reconstruction costs or, even worse, just straight-out [being] unable to maintain infrastructure within the parks and the parks themselves,” he said. “So we don't want to see that happen."

Congressional lawmakers are considering several bills to address deferred maintenance in the national parks.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA