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New Congress Makes Second Pass to Restore National Parks

South Dakota's Jewel Cave National Monument is one of six sites in the National Park Service system where maintenance is overdue.  (fs.usda.gov)
South Dakota's Jewel Cave National Monument is one of six sites in the National Park Service system where maintenance is overdue. (fs.usda.gov)
May 3, 2019

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – South Dakota has millions of dollars in deferred maintenance at six national park units, with a bill re-introduced in Congress to increase funds for overdue repairs hanging in the balance.

Badlands National Park needs $66 million worth of repairs, and another $20 million for Wind Cave. And that's just a portion ofoverdue maintenance that totals nearly $12 billion in parks nationwide .

The "Restore Our Parks Act" would provide only half of that, but Marcia Argust, project director with the Restore America's Parks program of The Pew Charitable Trusts, says it's a start. More tourists are showing up at national parks than ever before, and she says they deserve a quality experience.

"The longer those repairs go unattended, the worse and the more expensive they get,” says Argust. “Add to that challenge, you have pressures from over 300 million visitors each year."

Last year was the fourth consecutive year the national parks topped that 300 million visitor mark. It was also the ninth straight year of growth for the tourism industry in South Dakota, with visitors spending almost $4 billion.

Similar legislation to handle the maintenance backlog was introduced in previous sessions of Congress, but was stalled by other priorities.

The National Park Service has entered its second century, and Argust says if roads and trails, historic buildings and infrastructure systems aren't taken care of, visitors will stay home – which means local communities and the state will take an economic hit.

"I think it's important for people to think of parks as small cities and towns,” says Argust. “They have infrastructure and amenities that need to be maintained – like roads, bridges, buildings – so it's important that Congress ensures that our historic resources are preserved."

The National Park Service spent more than $670 million on the backlog of projects in 2018, but the cost estimate for total deferred maintenance still rose by $300 million.

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

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD