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ND Gateway Communities Could Benefit from National Parks Restoration

In 2017, visitors spent more than $18 billion in communities near national parks. (Amy Meredith/Flickr)
In 2017, visitors spent more than $18 billion in communities near national parks. (Amy Meredith/Flickr)
July 9, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. – A bill to address the crumbling infrastructure in America’s national parks is scheduled for a congressional hearing this week.

The Restore Our Parks Act would provide up to $6.5 billion over the next five years to chip away at the growing park maintenance backlog, estimated to be more than $11 billion.

Justin Ell is executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Medora, a town that sits at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

He says roads in the park are in sore need of attention, which in turn, hurts tourism in the area.

"Without them entering the park, we lose quite a bit of revenue off of that,” Ell points out. “And I think that's a big turn away, you know – if you're driving down a bumpy road, you're going to be telling people, 'You might want to avoid that. Go someplace where it's a little smoother.'"

The bill has support from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and conservation groups. It would use funds generated from onshore and offshore drilling.

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources' Subcommittee on National Parks holds a hearing on the bill on Wednesday.

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Restore America's Parks campaign, the maintenance backlog in North Dakota is about $52 million for roads, trails, restrooms and more.

A Pew-commissioned analysis also found fixing the country's entire backlog would generate 110,000 jobs, including more than 500 in North Dakota.

Rebecca Knuffke, an officer with the Restore America's Parks campaign, says gateway communities see the benefits from parks.

"In 2017, park visitors spent an estimated $18.2 billion in nearby communities, which generated over 306,000 jobs and a collective $38.8 billion boost to the national economy," she points out.

Ell says he drives through Theodore Roosevelt National Park every other week.

"The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a gem,” he states. “It's so peaceful and relaxing to drive through there – on the smooth parts of the road. But just to take in the beauty of the Badlands, you can't experience that anyplace else. It's a magical place."

The Restore Our Parks Act is a compromise bill created with the merger of two separate bills aimed at addressing park maintenance.

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

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND