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Congressional Bill Would Fund Decades of Lapsed Park Maintenance

New Mexico's Capulin Volcano was designated a National Monument in 1916. (
New Mexico's Capulin Volcano was designated a National Monument in 1916. (
July 10, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A bipartisan bill is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday that would address the nearly $12 billion backlog of repairs and maintenance within the National Park Service.

The "Restore Our Parks Act" would not fund all the deferred maintenance, but the $6.5 billion included in the bill would go a long way toward fixing the problem.

America's parks have never been more popular, with 331 million visitors last year.

Dee Burks, president of the Raton Chamber of Commerce, says the federal government is violating the public trust by not preserving designated parks for future generations.

"Forty years ago, they didn't see millions of visitors, and now they do," she notes. "And those facilities, number one, were never built for that sort of visitation and number two, haven't been maintained at all."

The legislation would establish the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund, meant to reduce the backlog of maintenance by using money the government gets from energy development including onshore and offshore drilling.

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts' "Restore America's Parks" campaign, New Mexico's maintenance backlog is $123 million for roads, trails, restrooms and more.

Rebecca Knuffke with the campaign says addressing these needs also would create jobs.

"A recent Pew-commissioned analysis found that if we fix all of our deferred maintenance, we could support or create at least 110,000 jobs, with 1,132 in New Mexico," Knuffke notes.

In 2017, visitors to national parks spent $18 billion in gateway communities, such as Raton, to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. Burks says the park's deterioration does not escape the notice of tourists.

"And from the top of Mt. Capulin you can see five states, it's absolutely beautiful," Burks says. "And unfortunately over the last decades, it has gone from a really premier attraction to one of those things people come and say, "Oh my goodness, isn't this a shame."

The bipartisan bill has support from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and conservation groups.

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

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM