Pew Testimony to House: Historic Leasing Can Help Fix National Parks

Practice can help NPS address $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance

Pew Testimony to House: Historic Leasing Can Help Fix National Parks
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
This historic bathhouse in Arkansas’ Hot Springs National Park was restored and converted into a brewery through a historic leasing agreement.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing Sept. 17 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on the National Park Service’s practice of leasing historic properties to private entities and how to better leverage those arrangements to help address the agency’s estimated $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. Under historic leasing, the private organization typically agrees to fund some or all of the needed repairs on a property. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks submitted this written testimony to committee members. 

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Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park
Fact Sheet

Hot Springs National Park

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Fact Sheet

For centuries, American Indian tribes recognized the healing powers of hot springs that flowed from the western slope of a mountain in Arkansas' Ouachita range. By 1832, when President Andrew Jackson designated Hot Springs Reservation as the nation's first federally protected recreation area, a town had sprung up around the springs. Samuel W. Fordyce, a business and railroad magnate, moved to "the American spa," as the town became known, in 1876 after experiencing the thermal waters, said to treat rheumatism and other ailments. He and others constructed large hotels, utility systems, street railway systems, and grand bathhouses, most of which are still open to the public.

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Novel Partnerships Help National Parks Address Maintenance Backlog

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Members of a congressional committee plan to travel to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas on Sept. 17 to examine firsthand how the practice of historic leasing can improve the visitor experience at national parks and address deferred maintenance.

National park maintenance
National park maintenance
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National Park Service Partnering on Repairs

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When smart, dedicated people from different organizational cultures come together to pursue a goal, good things can happen. Leaders at the National Park Service (NPS) know this and have entered into partnerships to address deferred maintenance projects at several NPS sites across the county.  The work ranges from fixing crumbling concrete and preserving archeological sites to restoring historic buildings and updating failing electrical systems—all part of an $11.3 billion maintenance backlog across the NPS’ more than 400 sites. The issues can affect access and safety, and even threaten the very items and sites the NPS was created to protect.