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

National Park Week
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 And critical water, sewer, and electrical systems at some parks are outdated and unsafe.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.

America’s National Parks: Upkeep Required
Podcast

U.S. National Parks: Upkeep Required

Episode 4

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Podcast

America’s National Park System spans more than 400 sites and received more than 331 million visits in 2016. Supported by a complex infrastructure—including roads, sewer systems, buildings, restrooms, and trails—the park system is beginning its second century in need of rejuvenation.

Trust Magazine
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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.”

Why America's National Parks Need Help
Quick View

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.”

Why America's National Parks Need Help
National Park Service sign
National Park Service sign
Article

Leaders Urges Congress to Fix National Parks

Request for sufficient funding is signed by 1,800 organizations and local officials from every state

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Article

A broad cross-section of business, political, community, and advocacy leaders from every state is asking Congress to fund much-needed repairs and maintenance in our national parks. In an April 4 letter, over 1,800 signers—including more than 300 local officials and 500 chambers of commerce, visitors bureaus, and business associations—urge Congress to provide reliable funding to the National Park Service (NPS) so it can fix deteriorating infrastructure, including historic buildings; roads; water, sewer, and electrical systems; memorials; and trails.

Fix Our Parks
Fix Our Parks
Video

National Parks Deteriorating—It's Time to Show Some Love

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Video

For hundreds of years, Valentine's Day has been a time to show people you care about how much you love them.