|August 25, 2016, will mark the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), the federal agency which operates more than 400 units representing what have been called “America’s greatest idea.”
There are individual celebrations planned throughout the national parks by both the National Park Service and many of its “friends” groups at individual parks. A comprehensive listing can be found atwww.nps.gov/subjects/centennial.
The highly successful Brand USA-funded IMAX presentation, “National Parks Adventure,” is now playing throughout the U.S. and globally, generating additional enthusiasm to visit our national parks.
All of this is very good news for international inbound tourism!
There is, however, challenge buried in this very positive centennial anniversary.
One hundred years after the National Park Service was created, it’s showing its age. Crumbling roads, rotting historic buildings, impassable trails, outdated public buildings, and safety hazards are all part of a deferred maintenance problem. Due to chronic congressional funding shortfalls, this infrastructure backlog is currently estimated to be at $12 billion, and that forces park superintendents to make tough decisions between funding visitor services or making repairs to the treasures within America’s national parks.
Fortunately, Congress has been looking into this and has seen various bills introduced and funding methods proposed.
The most important of the bills is one expressly focused on the National Park Service Centennial, called the National Park Service Centennial Act, H. R. 4680, sponsored by Representative Rob Bishop, (R) of Utah, who is the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Key elements in this bill find new funding by increasing the one time cost of the lifetime “senior parks pass” from $10 to $80, establish a Centennial Challenge Grant program for improvements to parks and programs, and create a Second Century Endowment at the National Park Foundation.
Some provisions of the bill are also included in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, though not the funding mechanisms. Other legislation impacting the National Park Service are appropriations bills for Interior, and the recently enacted Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which included some money for a limited amount of the infrastructure backlog.