National Park Week: A Time to Celebrate and Consider Solutions to Restore Our Parks

Watch a video on how overdue repairs are hurting our national treasures

Flag ceremony

Visitors to Fort Sumter National Monument in South Carolina help with a flag raising ceremony. This NPS site has almost $10 million in deferred maintenance.

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

National Park Week is a perfect time to celebrate America’s more than 400 national park sites. Whether you love to hike in breathtaking landscapes or get close to our nation’s history, you can check out all National Park Service (NPS) sites for free April 22 and 23.

But as we celebrate, we also need to be mindful that our national parks are struggling to keep up with needed repairs. The NPS reported in 2015 that its maintenance backlog was almost $12 billion. The fix-it list includes run-down roads, rotting historic buildings, and deteriorating trails. And critical water, sewer, and electrical systems at some parks are outdated and unsafe.

WATCH Pew’s National Park Week stop-motion video, which highlights some of the repairs needed at our national parks.

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

This week, Pew is taking a closer look at the future of our national parks. If you enjoyed our Valentine’s Day “Show Our National Parks Some Love” video, please watch the sequel, which highlights some of the needed repairs.  

In Pew’s latest podcast, we take a look at the repair backlog and learn what tourists, park advocates, and a retired NPS park superintendent have to say about the problem—and how to fix it. And the cover story of the winter 2017 edition of Trust magazine explains why many national park sites are in need of more than a facelift.

This isn’t a new problem. Back in 1956, Congress realized that our national parks needed serious help and allocated $900 million over a decade to repair them. In today’s dollars, that would be almost $8 billion. More than 60 years after that effort started, we need reliable and steady congressional funding for repairs, especially as visits to these national treasures continue to climb. In 2016, NPS sites recorded 331 million visits, an all-time high.

Cave entrance

Work is underway on a popular underground trail at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Even after this repair is completed, its trails will still need almost $30 million worth of repairs.

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

If we are going to preserve America’s history and natural places, we need to invest in their infrastructure to keep it functioning properly. Congress must help with funding, but we should also consider expanding public-private partnerships and using new technology that can cut energy and operating costs.

Let’s set a path that will ensure that the next time we celebrate National Park Week, we have made some headway in successfully restoring our park infrastructure.  

Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.

Trust Magazine: Why America's National Parks Need Help

Starved of funding, our national parks have fallen into grave disrepair over the past few decades. The dawning of the National Park Service’s second century presents us with an urgent challenge: to rejuvenate America’s “best idea.”

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