Parks need more funding

Washington State is a renowned destination for outdoor recreation and appreciation of nature

Parks need more funding

Washington State is a renowned destination for outdoor recreation and appreciation of nature, due in large part to its outstanding national parks. From camping at Mt. Rainier, or strolling along Olympic National Park’s scenic beaches to learning local history on San Juan Island, we have ample opportunities to get outside, lose and find ourselves in our national parks. While each national park site offers unique experiences for millions of Americans and international visitors, they are all part of a National Park System that has been inadequately funded by Congress. While visitors may notice a potholed road or building in disrepair, few realize that our more than 400 national park sites face a common threat: a staggering $12 billion infrastructure repair backlog.

As a long-time volunteer and trip leader with Tacoma’s branch of The Mountaineers, I joined celebrations last year of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. Now that the birthday candles have been blown out, it is time to roll our sleeves up and get to work on funding our parks.

In Washington State, the repair backlog at our national park sites has risen to more than $510 million. This includes more than $330 million in road work and nearly $20 million in trail repairs. The backlog has grown despite the economic benefits the parks provide. In 2015, more than 7.6 million park visitors in Washington spent over $470 million in nearby “gateway” communities. Many small communities such as Ashford, Forks, and Marblemount count on our parks for an economic boost.

Sadly, Congress has not made funding parks a priority. The entire National Park Service budget accounts for just one 15th of 1 percent of the federal budget, yet the agency’s budget continues to stagnate as visitation breaks records.

I regularly visit Mount Rainier to recreate and to volunteer in support of the park. I can attest to the fact that rangers and park staff are passionate stewards of our publicly owned heritage. However, staff cannot fix problems without adequate funding. Thousands of volunteer hours help with trails and small maintenance items, but repairing roads, bridges, culverts, and communications systems require major dollars and professional workers.

During his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of the Interior, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke noted that tackling the repair backlog was one of his main goals. Zinke wants national parks to be part of the Trump Administration’s larger infrastructure package. This is a natural fit. Congress can create a guaranteed federal fund that will gradually reduce the repair and maintenance backlog. Our leaders should also direct more Highway Trust Fund dollars to agencies including the National Park Service. Half of the estimated backlog is attributed to the 10,000 miles of roads and hundreds of bridges and tunnels that provide public access.

We must ensure that future generations can enjoy and appreciate our rich heritage. National parks need and deserve to be part of any national infrastructure package.

Margot Tsakonas

Maple Valley




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