National Park Maintenance Needs Take Center Stage

PBS show shines spotlight on neglected repairs at major sites

National park maintenance
© "This American Land"

The beauty, history, and stories behind America’s national parks leave many visitors in awe. Unfortunately, the curb appeal of the parks, recreation areas, historic sites, and monuments managed by the National Park Service (NPS) often masks significant challenges.

At many NPS sites, park managers struggle to keep up with long fix-it lists. Postponed repairs have grown into a maintenance backlog that is estimated at $11.3 billion. Deferred maintenance—repairs that have been put off for a year or longer—is threatening preservation of our history, impairing visitor access, and, if left unaddressed, could even compromise safety.

With support from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks, the public television newsmagazine “This American Land” visited three NPS sites to look at the impacts of deferred maintenance. The show airs on PBS stations across the country.

You can watch the eight-minute episode here (the first segment of the show) or click on the videos below for segments on each of the three iconic sites. 

Tap water for the millions of people who visit the Grand Canyon’s South Rim annually comes through a single pipeline that often breaks, sometimes requiring difficult and costly repairs via helicopter. 

Some of the memorials, and the infrastructure surrounding them, on the National Mall in Washington are crumbling because the NPS lacks the funds for repairs.

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, which includes the home where the civil rights leader lived until he was 12 and the church where he co-pastored, faces numerous deferred maintenance needs, one of which forced the park to close his birth home for several months in 2016.

If you enjoyed these stories, please take a look at another “This American Land” episode that explores three successful public-private partnerships that are helping to address deferred maintenance at popular NPS sites.

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

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