Editor’s Note: The following is a blog appearing on The Hill analyzing the effects of a proposed entrance fee at national parks to help fund operations and maintenance.
Would you pay more to visit your favorite national park? The National Park Service hopes so. The agency is proposing to increase entrance fees at many national parks across the country in an attempt to raise more revenue from visitors to help cover the cost of park operations and maintenance.
The proposal comes at a time when Congress just authorized the largest expansion of the national park system in nearly three decades — but with no plan for how to fund it.
The defense authorization bill, recently signed by President Obama, creates seven new national parks and expands nine existing parks, adding roughly 120,000 acres to the park system. The legislation, however, provides no additional funding for the expansion, which includes Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Nevada, the Coltsville National Historic Park in Connecticut and the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park in New York.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service faces a $12 billion backlog in deferred maintenance projects. The agency estimates that 90 percent of its roads are in “fair” to “poor” condition, dozens of bridges are “structurally deficient” and in need of reconstruction, and 6,700 miles of trails are in “poor” or “seriously deficient” condition. As the agency prepares to celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2016, the backlog is a glaring blemish in a system known for its crown jewels.
The National Park Service will now have to fund the operations of several new parks while attempting to address the critical needs within existing parks. And with no additional funding, the latest expansion means that the maintenance backlog could grow even larger in time for the agency’s centennial.
The National Parks Conservation Association called the legislation a clear sign that the Obama administration is “making national parks a national priority.” But as Kurt Repanshek of the National Parks Traveler recently wrote, the plan “will not enhance, but rather degrade the overall system.”
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