The combination of the recession of a few years ago and repeated Congressional budget cuts have left national parks in poor shape headed into the National Park Service’s centennial, according to a new report.
On Friday, the National Park Service released its annual report on the deferred maintenance that has piled up over a number of years and the huge sums of money needed to overcome the backlog.
The funds needed to complete all the maintenance projects now total almost $12 billion, an increase of $440 million just since last year. Sadly, that includes historic sites such as the Statue of Liberty with $160 million and Gettysburg with $55 million in deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance includes any infrastructure projects - roads and bridges, visitor centers, trails and campgrounds - that have been delayed at least a year.
For fiscal year 2016, Congress appropriated just $90 million for non-road maintenance projects.
“While Congress provided increases this year, the annual bill for maintenance in America’s national parks is still almost twice as much as is appropriated,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in a release.
The Park Service hopes to chip away at some of the problem by expanding the Centennial Challenge, a project that allows the agency to leverage private contributions to complete important projects. Congress provided $15 million for projects this year that will be matched by almost $33 million from more than 90 park partners, Jarvis said.
Although the amassed costs are higher in 12 other states, national parks in Montana account for more than $265 million of the maintenance backlog. Yellowstone National Park is the worst off, needing more than $660 million, although the Montana portion of the park accounts for only $28 million. Glacier National Park needs almost $180 million worth of maintenance to bring it back to its original glory.
California’s parks need the most work totalling more than $1.7 billion followed by the District of Columbia at $1.3 billion.
States such as North Carolina and Mississippi that have degraded national parkways could get some help from the $300-billion transportation bill passed by Congress in December. But with only $28 million of that slated to go to parks and more than $266 million needed to repair the Blue Ridge Parkway and $284 million needed for the Natchez Trace Parkway, it won’t go far.
Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said Congress should appropriate more money to the NPS in a time when many parks, including Yellowstone and Glacier, keep breaking annual visitation records.
“If Congress doesn’t make our parks a national priority in the federal budget now, then when?” Pierno said. “The best gift Congress can give to the Park Service on its 100th anniversary is to make sure this year’s budget includes significant increases to the agency’s maintenance and operations accounts. The Park Service needs these resources to tackle the backlog, fill vacant ranger positions, and put parks on the best path toward another century of service.”
President Barack Obama has proposed spending $900 million over three years to reduce the backlog.
National parks aren’t the only federal lands that have repeatedly been told by Congress to do more with less. National forests also have a huge backlog of maintenance projects awaiting funding.
A 2013 Government Accountability Office report found only a quarter of U.S. Forest Service trails met agency standards, and more than a third of the 158,000 miles of trails needed some sort of maintenance.
In 2013, the money needed annually for trail maintenance and capital improvements was estimated at $210 million, but Congress appropriated only $80 million to Forest Service maintenance.
At that time, the backlog of maintenance was estimated at $314 million, which showed the situation had worsened since 1989, when the accountability office found a $200 million backlog.
The USFS Northern Region, including Montana and parts of Idaho and the Dakotas, contains more trails than other regions with more than 29,000 but receives only $9,000 to $10,000 annually to maintain them.