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Congress Looks to Address Neglected Upkeep at National Parks

In 2016, tourism generated an estimated $275 million for gateway communities to Maine's four national parks. (TravelUSA/Flickr)
In 2016, tourism generated an estimated $275 million for gateway communities to Maine's four national parks. (TravelUSA/Flickr)
March 9, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine – National parks in Maine and other states would get some much needed upkeep under a new bill in Congress.

The National Park Restoration Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, would help address the national parks maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion, through money raised from energy production on federal lands.

It's an important issue for Mainers like state Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, who owns the Union River Lobster Pot near Acadia National Park. Langley says besides their natural and historical significance, national parks fuel local economies.

"Having Acadia National Park in Maine is akin to putting the milk in the back of the store,” he says. “People come all the way through Maine to get to Acadia National Park, and they stop along the way and buy gas and eat, and stay overnight. And so for many, many of us, it's an important part of our summer business."

It's estimated that in 2016, visitors spent more than $275 million in the gateway communities to Maine's four national parks, generating over 4,500 jobs. But in 2017, the maintenance backlog in the Maine parks topped $60 million.

Marcia Argust, project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts' "Restore America's Parks" program, says with this legislation, Congress now has a number of bipartisan initiatives that would provide funds to fix national parks. She believes it demonstrates that Congress and the Trump administration are listening to the public.

"They understand that parks preserve our history, and they understand that parks are important for the economics of local communities,” says Argust. “So, I think the outpouring of support from these voices is being heard."

The National Park Restoration Act would create a fund for high-priority deferred maintenance needs, using half of onshore and offshore revenue from energy production on federal lands not already allocated to other uses.

Langley is convinced it's a smart move.

"That is such a fair trade, that those companies and people that are looking to extract oil, that those fees and such be turned back into preserving and up keeping and maintaining these pristine parts of our country."

A 2017 report commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than 110,000 jobs could be created or supported by addressing the maintenance backlog.

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

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - ME