Opinion: National Park Restoration Act a commonsense solution to park repair backlogs
Last week, we celebrated National Park Week, a chance for Americans across the country to celebrate our great outdoors, and no state’s people are as proud of their public lands as Coloradans. For decades, Coloradans have cherished our public lands and are strong supporters of protecting these lands for the next generation.
Whether it is hiking one of Colorado’s fourteeners, spending the day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, sledding down the Great Sand Dunes National Park, or learning about the ancient cultures that called Colorado home at Mesa Verde National Park, as a state we are always enjoying our National Parks and public lands.
National Park Week was a chance for us to reflect back on the work we have been able to do to support our public lands up to this point, as well as look forward to new ways to protect these lands we all enjoy.
Since I entered the Senate, I have worked with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and other colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is properly funded. LWCF is a critical conservation program that preserves public lands and ensures public access to the outdoors. In short, the program takes leasing revenues from natural resource operations on public lands and uses those dollars to preserve and protect our public lands for future generations. This program is supported by conservationists, sportsmen, hunters, and many other Coloradans who appreciate the outdoors, and has been wildly successful since its inception more than 30 years ago.
However, as more and more people from all over the world flock to our public lands and National Parks, we are now at a point where the infrastructure inside our parks is in desperate need of repair. There is an urgent need to address the more than $11 billion dollar maintenance backlog on lands managed by the National Park Service, more than $220 million of which is here in Colorado.
In an effort to address this problem, the Department of Interior proposed increasing the entrance fee at National Parks across Colorado and the country. I was weary of this plan and wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke saying, “While I share your urgency on the need to address the park maintenance backlog, I have concerns that sudden and dramatic increases in the costs of passes for both private individuals and commercial operations could have unforeseen negative consequences on the communities that rely on visitation to these parks to keep their economies thriving.”
Interior drastically reduced the amount of the fee increase and will instead work with Congress on a different solution.
The result of this cooperation led to the introduction of the National Park Restoration Act, a bipartisan, commonsense proposal that will use the federal share of revenues from energy production on federal lands to help pay for the more than $11 billion maintenance backlog at our national parks. Modeled after the way we fund the successful LWCF program, this proposal is supported by members on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Trump administration. It is also important to note the legislation protects LWCF and does not take one dollar from existing conservation programs.
We have an obligation to protect our public lands for future generations of Coloradans to enjoy and National Park Week was a reminder of that. Now is as good as time as any for Congress to pass the National Park Restoration Act and make a long-term commitment to our National Parks.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO)
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