This year, we celebrated the 100th birthday of our National Park Service – the heroes in green and grey who devote their lives to making sure our parks stay beautiful, healthy and maintained. But after a full century of service, they’re having major problems performing their jobs and they need our help. To date, our national parks face over $12 billion in needed restoration and they don’t have the money to fix it.
So what’s the deal?
Within our national parks is preserved the entirety of not only our young nation’s history, but the history of this land. From national seashores and scenic trails to memorials and military parks and even President’s Park, the territory under the National Park Service’s authority is incredibly unique and varied. Not only that, it’s huge! Our National Park System includes 413 units and covers more than 84 million acres of land. That’s a lot of places and a lot of upkeep.
That’s why it makes it so shocking that only 1/14th of 1% of our entire federal budget goes toward our National Park Service. Huh?!
Economically speaking, this should be a no-brainer deal. In 2015 alone, park visitation produced over $32 billion for the U.S economy. Not only that, entire cities and towns across the country rely on the tourism generated from our National Parks. Take a look at Big Bend National Park in Texas. Located in the middle of scenic no-wheres-ville (I made that up), the sheer presence of the National Park supports over 500 jobs in the local area (didn’t make that up). But in Big Bend alone, we face more than $91 million in deferred maintenance projects.
So, if the National Park System generates so much money annually and supports so many jobs (295,339 as of 2015) – what happened?
Why can’t they take care of the backlog? Thanks to the tightening budget set by Congress, our Park Service receives less than 60 cents for every dollar needed just to keep the backlog from growing. The bottom line – our National Park System is drowning.
How did this happen? But the sad truth is, guys, this didn’t happen overnight. You need to remember that our National Park Service has been rockin’ for over 100 years!
Our roads, infrastructure, visitor centers, trails, campgrounds, bridges, water systems and historical buildings are old. They’re senior citizens. Not only that, but our National Parks broke major records in visitation in 2015. Nearly 308 million people visited our National Parks last year.
Imagine that you’re one hundred years old. That’s like if 308 million of your grandkids knocked on your front door to tell you happy birthday and asked you to bake them cookies. While you love seeing your grandchildren and baking cookies, you’re old, tired and you only ever hear from those kids when they want something.
Ignoring this backlog would mean forgetting the importance of accessibility to these breathtaking places. It would mean turning our back on history. It would mean that one day sooner than we hoped, our National Park System will ben forced to stop answering the door when we knock. The needed restoration will be too much and the conditions too unsafe for visitors. And the longer we wait, the more expensive this gets.
This year, we told our National Park Service “Happy Birthday!” and thanked them for a good, ol’ hundred years. But we ignored what happened during that time. Things, places and people grew old, and while it’s okay to get old, it’s not okay to turn our backs on our most beloved landscapes and places.
So what do you do? You contact your congressman. You tell them how much you love our national parks, our nation’s history and our precious, breathtaking land. You tell them that this isn’t about us. It’s about our future and what we leave behind. Our National Parks need greater funding.
How will you describe to your grandchildren in words the beauty of Yosemite Valley seen from Glacier Point, when we can no longer go see it for ourselves. How will you explain that Delicate Arch has at last been closed down to the public? How will you tell them about the countless species of plants and animals who went extinct due to our negligence? You can’t. So, we’ve got to save these places.