National Park Service Announces Maintenance Backlog As Obama Proposes Agency Budget Increase

Toni Ann Booras Contributor
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The National Park Service’s maintenance backlog has reached $11.9 billion nationwide, a $440 million increase from the previous year, ahead of the agency’s 100th anniversary in August.

The NPS said maintenance projects have been deferred at most of the country’s 409 national parks. Such maintenance includes “necessary work” on infrastructure such as visitor’s centers, roads, trails and other facilities that has been put off for over a year. The deferred maintenance continues to increase despite an additional $90 million increase in funding for such projects allocated by Congress in the last fiscal year.

“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,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a statement.

The announcement comes as record numbers of people visited national parks last year. More than 305 million visitors flocked to national parks in 2015, up from the previously record-breaking 292 million in 2014.

“Our parks preserve and protect some of America’s most treasured natural, historic and cultural sites,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement. “We must work together to ensure parks have the funding and resources they need to fulfill that mission.”

President Barack Obama’s proposed $4.1 trillion budget for fiscal 2017, announced Tuesday, would allocate $3.1 billion for the NPS. This would be an increase of $250.2 million, or 9 percent, from the previous fiscal year. Part of this finding would go toward the Centennial Initiative, established last year, which includes projects to prepare visitor’s centers and infrastructure over ten years ahead of the agency’s 100th anniversary.

The president’s budget includes a discretionary increase of $150.5 million in construction and operations for this initiative. $49.2 million would go toward the repair and maintenance of the 7,186 highest priority non-transportation assets, such as trails and campgrounds, according to the agency’s proposed FY2017 budget justifications. An additional $46.6 would be allocated for cyclic maintenance and $54.7 million would go toward addressing major maintenance needs.

“We are actively reaching out to a new generation of visitors and inviting them to explore the depth and breadth of the National Park System,” Jarvis said in a statement. “The President’s budget will enable the National Park Service to continue to provide these visitors with a fantastic experience, while ensuring that these priceless resources are protected and preserved into the next century.”

The sites that have the highest deferred maintenance totals are the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Gateway National Recreation area in New York and New Jersey, and Yellowstone National Park, which spans Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, according to the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times.

“The Park Service needs these resources to tackle overdue repairs, fill vacant ranger positions, leverage philanthropic support, protect parks from development, and allow our parks to thrive in their second century,” said Pierno in a statement.