The national parks, including our own Independence National Historical Park, are crumbling.
Altogether, the maintenance backlog is $12 billion -- and most Americans want it addressed. In a poll released Nov. 19, the Pew Charitable Trusts notes that 76 percent of respondents approve of a legislation that would commit $6.5 billion over five years to fix up the parks.
But there has been little action on it and it is likely to die when the session ends in a few weeks. That gives this region’s congressional delegation – especially its newest members – an important job to do once they’re sworn into office in January.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has been so busy racking up investigations into his behavior that he hasn’t been much of an advocate for the parks. In office less than two years, he has managed to become the subject of 15 Inspector General and Office of Special Counsel investigations. A separate criminal investigation into a Whitefish, Mont., land deal is ongoing. His worst offenses, however, may be his willingness to open the lands that belong to all of us to coal, oil, and natural gas extraction and our oceans to offshore drilling.
Since Zinke is more interested in exploiting our parks than preserving them, Congress should step up its role as a check on an administration bent on ignoring its responsibilities. Those responsibilities have been neglected for too long, not just by President Trump’s administration, but by his predecessors as well.
The parks contain infrastructure that’s over 100 years old, and that can cause problems at a time when visitation is skyrocketing, notes Marcia Argust, project director for Pew’s research on the parks.
Around the country, Pew reports that some of our most popular historic and natural areas are literally falling apart. The Assateague Island National Seashore needs a new access road because the old one has been severely damaged by constant flooding. The maintenance backlog at the Grand Canyon is more than $370 million. And, trails at Zion National Park are routinely closed because of a $70 million maintenance backlog.
Closer to home, Independence Hall looks rundown and is surrounded by equally rundown looking lawns and buildings, many of which are closed. Consider the symbolism of this: The stonework at the very base of the pillars of Independence Hall is so chipped and discolored, it needs $120,000 in repairs.
The overall price tag for repairs at Independence National Historic Park is $44 million, including electrical and mechanical system repairs for most buildings which haven’t been overhauled since the 1970s.
But other venerable landmarks in the region are also in need. Valley Forge and Gettysburg need almost $92 million in repairs. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area needs $64 million. Delaware’s First State National Historic Park needs $1.3 million in help and New Jersey’s two national recreation areas need $214 million.
It is unthinkable that our spectacular national lands in Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Arcadia national parks would be in such a state of decline. The job needs the steady hands of experienced members of Congress and the enthusiasm of its incoming members.