Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop has teamed up with Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., to introduce a bill designed to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog in the country’s national parks. Not only is the legislation a welcome breath of bipartisan air, it sends the message that national parks are valuable assets worth protecting and maintaining.
The only puzzling thing about the proposal is why it hasn’t happened sooner.
The summation of backlogged maintenance in Utah alone — including its national parks, monuments, historic sites and recreation areas — tallies approximately $266 million. The needed work ranges from replacing restroom facilities to repairing roads and renovating outdated buildings.
In one striking example, Utah’s Timpanogos Cave National Monument has a toilet in use dating to the 1930s when only 10,000 visitors came per year. Now, more than 100,000 guests visit the cave every year. Hikers increased 10-fold, but the facilities remained the same. No doubt most parks and monuments around the country can tell a similar story.
The plan will tap unused revenues from renewable energy operations and divert them to a special fund designated to pay off the backlog over several years. It’s a sound idea that benefits visitors without costing them more in entrance fees or taxes.
While new facilities and rejuvenated trails will paint a refreshing scene for visitors and add to their comfort and experience, the heart of the matter is about responsibly caring for the country’s protected landscapes. “The tragedy of this backlog is … it indicates that we are not being good stewards of the land,” Bishop said during a press conference Wednesday.
The Antiquities Act, though presidents from both political parties may have abused it, nevertheless embodies the desire Americans share to honor special landscapes. If a place deserves protected status, it also deserves enough staff and resources to keep up the preservation against droves of visitors. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.12 comments on this story
Good stewardship means prioritizing resources to meet the obligations government agreed to when the designations were made, something this bill aims to correct. And as a practical matter, the immense backlog should send a signal to future executives to stay true to a core element of the Antiquities Act, which explicitly confines designations “to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Exercising prudence at the beginning of the designation process should make a national landscape easier and cheaper to protect down the road.
This bill deserves a good hearing and passage through Congress — a hopeful scenario given the early praise it’s received. Utah is a unique state among several blessed with tremendous lands that have inspired everyone from native inhabitants to global visitors. It’s no wonder, then, that treating them with the dignity they deserve is the subject of a gratifying moment of political unity.