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Dec. 9, 2019

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In Our View: Nothing partisan about preserving national parks

The Columbian
Published: May 29, 2019, 6:03am

America’s national parks, monuments and historic sites are suffering from neglect — to the point of a $12 billion backlog of necessary maintenance.

In Clark County, that is manifested in a $4.3 million backlog at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, according to the National Park Service. Throughout Washington, needed repairs add up to more than $400 million for deteriorating roads and ecosystems, leaky roofs and clogged drains.

This belies the very purpose behind the founding of the national park system more than a century ago. As President Theodore Roosevelt, a driving force behind the preservation of public lands, is credited with saying, “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.” There is a reason national parks have often been called “America’s best idea.”

Now, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act is providing Congress with an opportunity for bipartisan agreement on the need to invest in the United States for the benefit of future generations. The bill would allocate $6.5 billion over five years to fix up public spaces.

The money would not come from taxpayers, but from fees added to energy company leases on federal lands and waters. More than 200 members of the House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors, but Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, is one of two Washington representatives not on board. The Senate version of the bill has 36 co-sponsors, but Washington Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have yet to sign on.

Herrera Beutler opposes the bill because it does not include U.S. Forest Service land, which also faces a maintenance backlog and also warrants attention from Congress.

But we hope that competing need does not preclude maintenace at national parks, lest Americans love their national parks to death. As Rep. Donna F. Edwards, D-Md., quipped in a column for The Washington Post: “If the parks had a homeowners’ association, they would be racking up citations for violations.”

Shoring up national parks and historic sites is not only a matter of preserving this nation’s scenic beauty and cultural heritage. It also is important to areas that welcome visitors. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor and a champion of the Restore Our Parks act said, “I’ve seen firsthand how our public lands have captivated both visitors and residents alike and served as key economic drivers for our local communities.”

Last year, America’s national parks saw more than 300 million visitors who spent more than $20 billion, according to a new report from the National Park Service. While such tallies can be specious in their calculations, there is no doubt that nearby parks provide a boost for countless communities.

Particularly in the western United States, national parks and monuments are tightly linked to our heritage and to our appreciation for the grandeur of this nation. A survey conducted by Colorado College found that 94 percent of residents in Western states favor more spending for maintenance of national parks.

For many Americans, the idea of preserving our natural splendor is a strong selling point for addressing the maintenance backlog at cherished sites. For others, recognition that there is a strong return on investment should resonate.

Either way, adequate spending for national parks, monuments and historic sites should generate bipartisan support for restoring and enhancing our nation’s most wondrous public spaces.

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