Summer brings a big jump in visitors to national parks, along with a reminder of how many repairs are waiting to be addressed at these sites to ensure safe access for current visitors and protection of American history for future generations. In fact, the more than 400 sites managed by the National Park Service (NPS) need almost $12 billion worth of deferred maintenance.
A new poll commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that 82 percent of Americans want Congress to pass legislation—now pending—to invest up to $1.3 billion per year over five years to address these overdue repairs. That percentage is up from a similar Pew-commissioned telephone poll in November 2018, which found that 76 percent of Americans supported legislation to address the maintenance backlog.
The most recent survey, conducted in June 2019 by the bipartisan research team of New Bridge Strategy and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, revealed strong support for the legislation, which would create a fund of up to $6.5 billon to address park repairs by using payments that oil and gas companies are already making to the federal government for operating on public lands and waters.
Deferred maintenance issues at NPS sites include deteriorating historic buildings; crumbling roads; outdated water, sewer, and electrical systems; and eroding trails and campgrounds.
The parks restoration measures—the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 1225) and the Restore Our Parks Act (S. 500)—already enjoy strong bipartisan support in Congress, with more than one-third of senators and more than two-thirds of House members backing the bills. With legislation already passed by a key House committee, it is now up to congressional leadership to schedule a vote by the full House. On July 25, the House legislation reached an impressive milestone when the 300th representative signed on as co-sponsor.
Deferred maintenance affects national park visitors and, if left unaddressed, could lead to a drop in park visitation and spending in communities near NPS sites. In 2018 alone, visitors spent more than $20 billion in gateway regions near national parks, helping to support almost 330,000 jobs.
The June poll also found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. voters believe the NPS lacks adequate funds to maintain its sites. A similar percentage wants Congress to allocate more federal highway funds to address the backlog of transportation needs—such as road repairs—which account for about half of the total deferred maintenance.
Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.