National Park Repairs Can Help Us Honor Black History

Senator tours Booker T. Washington site, one of many that need to be fixed

National Park Repairs Can Help Us Honor Black History
Mark Warner
Senator Mark Warner (center) tours the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Hardy, Virginia, with the monument’s chief interpreter Timothy Sims (left), acting superintendent Floyd Myers, and others.
Courtesy of Senator Mark Warner’s office

Virginia’s rich history dates to the founding of the United States and includes notable figures from several different eras. Unfortunately, some landmarks to that history are facing deferred maintenance, part of an almost $12 billion backlog of needed repairs across National Park Service (NPS) sites nationwide.     

Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D) recognizes the need to address that deferred maintenance backlog. On Feb. 20, just days after he and three other lawmakers reintroduced a bill to do that, Warner visited one of the affected sites, the Booker T. Washington National Monument, birthplace of one of Virginia’s most prominent African-Americans.

Mark Warner
Booker T. Washington National Monument chief interpreter Timothy Sims describes the site’s tobacco barn to Sen. Warner (not pictured). Buildings at the monument need $109,000 in repairs.
Courtesy of Senator Mark Warner’s office

Washington was born into slavery on a plantation in Hardy, Virginia, and lived in the kitchen cabin with his mother and two siblings. As a young boy, he assisted the master’s daughter who was a teacher, carrying her books to and from school. But he had to wait outside the school, longing to one day get the chance to learn.

Washington grew up watching his mom cook for the plantation owners but he had a different recipe for his life. After he was freed at age 9 at the end of the Civil War, Washington took what work he could find even as he pursued his education. He eventually earned a degree from Hampton Institute and went on to become a famous orator, advise presidents, and help establish the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama (today’s Tuskegee University), which educated African-American students and where he served as its first principal.

Mark Warner
Inside a replica kitchen cabin designed to closely resemble Booker T. Washington’s childhood home, chief interpreter Timothy Sims details some of Washington’s early life while Sen. Warner listens. Washington once wrote that the dirt-floor cabin measured only 14 feet by 16 feet.
Courtesy of Senator Mark Warner’s office

The national monument that bears Washington’s name details his life but needs $1.4 million in repairs. Amid a blanket of snow, Sen. Warner toured the monument and viewed some of the areas, including parts of the grounds, trails, and buildings. 

The NPS site is one of many in Virginia facing a significant repair backlog, as Warner stated in a news release following the bill’s re-introduction. 

Mark Warner
From the kitchen cabin, Sims points out several repair needs, including fencing and the Jack-O-Lantern Branch trail, which was partially washed away in recent heavy rain. The deferred maintenance on the trail totals $388,000.
Courtesy of Senator Mark Warner’s office

“The deferred maintenance backlog at national park sites in Virginia is currently over a billion dollars,” Sen. Warner said, noting that the Commonwealth trails only California and the District of Columbia in total deferred maintenance needs. “Colonial National Historical Park, which is home to Historic Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield, has over $400 million in deferred maintenance needs alone.”

Locals from Hardy who joined the senator on his tour told him that the Restore Our Parks bill is one of the best ways to get these repairs made and ensure that the site remains a tourist draw.  The bill would provide up to $6.5 billion over five years to address the priority repairs needed at NPS sites. A similar bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives.

Mark Warner
This historic snake rail fencing is on the repair list and is part of the national monument's deferred maintenance.
Courtesy of Senator Mark Warner’s office

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

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
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Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

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Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

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