How About Some Economic Stimulus for the National Park System?
With the Bush administration and Congress looking to one-up each other with economic stimuli, perhaps a little love could be shown to the National Park System. Lord knows it could use some.
Much has been made in years past of the system's enormous maintenance backlog, which was last pegged in the neighborhood of $8 billion. And, of course, there's the Centennial Initiative, which is seen as one vehicle for addressing park needs.
Well, today in Washington the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing to discuss investing in the nation's infrastructure in the name of economic stimuli. In a pleasant surprise the committee invited Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, to provide a rundown on what the national parks could use in terms of infrastructure attention. And Mr. Kiernan didn't disappoint.
"Although it is not their primary purpose, our national parks play a significant role in the economies of many communities," he told the representatives. "As Congress develops an economic recovery program for our nation, investments to improve our national parks can be an important part of the effort that benefits unique places in our country and their mostly rural communities nearby.
"As much as $440 million worth of road projects in our national parks are ready to go to construction, and can rapidly produce as many as 7,000 jobs while also renewing our national heritage and helping to revitalize our national parks for our children and grandchildren."
According to the NPCA president, twice in the past the country has made "substantial investments" in the National Park System. The first occurred, he noted, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt "initiated the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps with the goal of bringing our infrastructure into the 20th century, creating jobs, and reforesting many parts of our country."
That investment led to creation of such roads as the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.
The next time the country made a great investment in the parks came in the wake of World War II when the country got in the mood of heading out onto the open road for vacations. That investment, under the heading of "Mission 66," was "initiated as a ten-year National Park Service program intended to expand visitor services by the 50th anniversary of the Park Service in 1966," Mr. Kiernan pointed out.
"The program focused on infrastructure projects such as roads, utilities, and visitor services. Through an investment of more than $7 billion in today’s dollars, the Mission 66 program transformed the national park system into one of the most popular vacation destinations for both American families and foreign tourists," he told the committee.
Which brings us up to today, when the National Park System is in places overwhelmed with deteriorating roads and buildings that haven't been kept up.
"It is more than half a century since those last, significant investments were begun, and the lack of sufficient reinvestment since that time is evident from examining the condition of park roads today," said Mr. Kiernan.
According to NPCA, there are more than $270 million "in 18 transportation infrastructure improvement projects that are ready to go to construction."
"When ready-to-go road projects that do not receive (Federal Lands Highway Program) funding are included, the system-wide estimate exceeds $440 million. All these projects have obtained environmental clearance and can be contracted out within 180 days," said Mr. Kiernan.
As for some of those needs, NPCA points out that the ongoing reclamation of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is in need of funding. Specifically, Glacier officials have more than $20 million in work ready to be done...but no money to pay for it, according to the advocacy group.