Americans have long shown deep gratitude and respect for our country’s veterans, with many people choosing to honor them at some of the 150 National Park Service (NPS) military sites around the country. But even as the nation marks Veteran’s Day this year, NPS is searching for ways to fund an estimated $6 billion in repairs at these solemn places, part of $11.6 billion in repair needs at national park sites throughout the country.
Unfortunately, the maintenance backlog has accrued due to aging facilities, increasing pressures from visitation, and lack of consistent funding. Congress can help address the problem this year by passing bipartisan legislation—introduced in the House and Senate—to direct annual federal funds to priority park repairs. If enacted, the legislation would benefit military sites such as Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, which needs $52.5 million in deferred maintenance.
Gettysburg is the site of a turning point in the Civil War, and the famous battle there in July 1863 produced more casualties than any other during the war. In 2017, some 1 million visits to the military park, adding to wear and tear on walkways and roads. Time is also taking its toll on many historical features at the park, and constant exposure to the elements is hastening deterioration of buildings, like structures on farms where much of the fighting took place.
In addition to compromising the visitor experience, including safety and access, unaddressed park repairs can hurt communities that depend on tourist spending. In 2017, Gettysburg visitors spent more than $65 million in gateway towns and regions, NPS data show. Even local news media are highlighting the repair needs at one of America’s most well-known Civil War battle sites.
The clock is ticking. If Congress fails to pass the Restore Our Parks (S. 3172) and Restore Our Parks and Public Lands (H.R. 6510) acts this year, critical park resources will continue to deteriorate, repair needs will escalate, and repairs will become more costly.
Some of the issues at Gettysburg are obvious in photos. Lawmakers can make a difference by following the urging of the thousands of people and organizations who signed a letter in support of Congress dedicating more resources to fix our parks now.
Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.