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Advocates Urge Support For National Parks Funding

The National Park Service has deferred maintenance for a year or more on visitor centers, rest stops, trails and campgrounds in Virginia. (Pixabay)
The National Park Service has deferred maintenance for a year or more on visitor centers, rest stops, trails and campgrounds in Virginia. (Pixabay)
July 11, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. – The "Restore Our Parks Act" is scheduled for a Congressional hearing today and, if approved, could send up to $6.5 billion toward clearing a nearly $12 billion backlog of repairs in the National Park Service system.

The nation's parks are continuing to grow in popularity, with some 331 million visitors last year. However, the direct upkeep of those parks has fallen by the wayside with a growing backlog of routine maintenance.

Lynn Davis, who chairs national-park issues for the Virginia Association of Parks, said the situation gets dangerous for park rangers when they are doing simple things such as trying to communicate to each other in mountainous areas.

"They can't even get any type of communications signals; that's how bad and archaic some of the basics are," she said. "So we're talking about safety issues. We're not talking about luxury; we're talking about really basic issues for safety and functioning as a visitor in a park."

The bipartisan bill, pushed by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is being considered in the U.S. Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee's subcommittee on national parks. It would create the National Park Service Legacy Fund, which would use money generated from onshore and offshore drilling to address the backlog.

In the past year, the maintenance backlog at Park Service sites in Virginia has reached more than $1 billion. Rebecca Knuffke with the Pew Charitable Trusts' "Restore America's Parks" campaign said addressing these needs also would also create jobs.

"A recent Pew-commissioned analysis found that if we fix all of our deferred maintenance," she said, "we could support or create at least 110,000 jobs."

Virginia's backlog includes roughly $80 million of overdue maintenance at Shenandoah National Park, known as one of the crown jewels of the nation's park system. The bill by Warner, along with Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Angus King, I-Maine, has the support of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and conservation groups.

The text of the Restore Our Parks Act is online at scribd.com.

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

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - VA