The Obama administration is looking for shovel-ready projects to help create jobs and revive our moribund economy. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, hopes to point the president and Congress to the nation’s sandbox – our 84 million-acre, 391-property system of national parks.
According to an editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune, after decades of fiscal neglect, the underfunded National Park Service has amassed a massive maintenance backlog. Approximately $8.7 billion is needed to rebuild, restore and refurbish roads, restrooms, campgrounds, trails, piers, boardwalks, offices, visitor centers and assorted outbuildings. And under the Bush administration the deferred-maintenance backlog grew at a rate of $700 million per year, threatening to turn our nation’s pristine playgrounds into money pits.
Matheson, while declining to put a price tag on his proposal, wants to help cure the ailing parks as well as the ailing economy with a healthy dose of money from the proposed $825 billion federal economic stimulus package.
It sounds like a solid plan, one that meshes well with the president’s priorities: a short-term investment in our economy, and a long-term investment in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Congress has earmarked $2.25 billion for parks, but more should be spent.
The parks projects, Matheson said, are “defined, vetted, prioritized and … ready to go right now.”
That means immediate relief for the construction industry, where unemployment hovers around 13%, nearly twice the national jobless rate. It means money pumped into rural areas that could be bypassed by an urban-oriented stimulus plan. And it means preserving and rehabilitating our nation’s parks for the enjoyment of future generations.
Spending money on the parks is also an investment in the cleanest of industries – tourism. National parks, monuments, seashores, lakes, battlefields, historic sites and recreation areas attracted nearly 276 million visitors in 2007, giving local businesses a boost. According to a study by the National Parks Conservation Association, every dollar spent on national parks returns $4 to local and state economies through taxes and visitor spending.
But if our parks are allowed to continue to deteriorate, it will threaten the economic lifelines of countless communities and the future of a park system that is a national treasure. The stimulus package provides the perfect opportunity to restore the luster to our nation’s crown jewels.