By Mick Cornett and Michael Hancock
Tribune News Service
America is celebrating National Park Week, and on April 22-23 those who love our nation’s history, landscapes and recreational wonders can visit all National Park Service sites for free.
But as these American treasures enter their second century, they need some TLC. The National Park Service has an estimated $12 billion in overdue repairs because of years of underfunding, infrastructure that is 50 to 100 years old and increased visitation. Of the $12 billion, $4.8 billion is attributed to repairs considered critical to the Park Service’s mission – to preserve the sites and keep them operating for future generations. Symbolic natural and cultural landmarks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and Colonial National Historical Park, among many other American treasures, are all in need of repair. The new Congress and the Trump administration must invest in our national parks – restoring historic buildings, fixing outdated and unsafe water and electrical systems, and improving crumbling roads and trails.
Fixing our parks is a win-win for cities and their residents. Including park maintenance in infrastructure initiatives will create U.S. jobs. The National Park Service reports it has park sites in 40 of the 50 most populous cities nationwide. In fact, just last year, during the system’s centennial, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling on Congress to create a reliable, predictable stream of resources to address deferred maintenance needs in America’s National Park System. However, parks also help smaller towns to flourish. In 2015 alone, more than 307 million visits to national park sites helped pump $16.9 billion into nearby communities. In 2016, visitors shattered the previous record with more than 331 million visits to national park sites.
National parks are an essential and treasured element of our identity, providing crucial historical and cultural education to visitors. They also provide unparalleled access to some of the world’s most beautiful scenery and natural areas, attracting millions of outdoor recreationists each year.
In our communities, NPS sites serve different but important purposes. The Oklahoma City National Memorial honors the victims and the survivors of the 1995 bombing that claimed 168 lives. It’s a peaceful place where people come to remember and leave with resolve. And not too far from Denver, people travel to Rocky Mountain National Park to connect with nature, exploring vistas that help make it the national park with the third-highest visits in the country.
As President Trump and Congress establish their priorities, mayors across the nation hope they will invest in our communities and our national parks. Restoring our national parks will bring jobs and tourists and ensure our history, culture and breathtaking landscapes are preserved for future generations of Americans.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett is the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is a co-chair of the Mayors for Parks National Task Force. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.