National Parks Require Restoration
A look at the infrastructure needs of the nation’s treasured sites
The National Park System protects more than 400 natural, historic, cultural, and recreational sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories.
In 2016, as the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its 100th anniversary, many of these cherished places are showing signs of age: crumbling roads and bridges; neglected historic buildings; eroding trails; and deteriorating electrical, water, and sewage systems. Decades of congressional underfunding, combined with the inherent challenges of maintaining aging infrastructure and diverse properties, has led to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects, and the price tag for addressing high-priority assets is nearly $2.4 billion.1
The NPS needs reliable resources to satisfy its congressional mandate to protect and conserve these scenic, natural, and historic places in perpetuity. Parks with poorly maintained infrastructure or closed facilities can detract from visitors’ experiences—and from spending in the gateway communities, many of which depend on park-related revenue. In 2015, NPS sites recorded 307 million visits,2 and park guests spent almost $17 billion in nearby cities and towns. That spending supported 295,300 jobs and contributed $32 billion in economic activity nationwide.3
The NPS needs guaranteed annual funding to address its maintenance needs so that future generations can enjoy and learn from our national treasures.
P.A.R.K.S.: Addressing deferred maintenance for the future
- P—Preservation Our national history must be preserved and protected.
- A—Access Roads, bridges, trails, and historical buildings need repairs to ensure that visitors can access and experience the parks.
- R—Revenue Deferred maintenance detracts from visitors’ experiences, jeopardizing the billions in revenue that national park sites provide for adjacent communities and states.
- K—Kids Our park sites must be well cared for so that our youth can enjoy and learn from them.
- S—Safety Aging infrastructure and building code issues need to be addressed so that visitors have a safe experience.
The Pew Charitable Trusts works with the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and other national and local groups to ensure that our national park resources are maintained and protected for future generations to enjoy.
- National Park Service, “NPS Deferred Maintenance Reports,” accessed Aug. 19, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/plandesignconstruct/defermain.htm.
- National Park Service, “National Park Service Certifies 2015 Visitation at 307 Million: Reports Annual Top 10 Lists and Other Highlights,” news release, accessed Aug. 19, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/release.htm?id=1784.
- National Park Service, “Visitor Spending Effects,” accessed Aug. 19, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm.
- National Park Service, “National Park Visitor Spending Contributes $32 Billion to Economy: Every public dollar invested in National Park Service returns $10,” news release, accessed Aug. 19, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/release.htm?id=1821.
- National Park Service, “National Park Service Certifies.”
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, with a maintenance backlog that now exceeds $12 billion. The dawning of the National Park Service’s second century presents us with an urgent challenge: to rejuvenate America’s “best idea.”