Congress in 2020 passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which aims to fund up to $1.9 billion a year for five years to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools.
Those funds are already working locally. Earlier this year, $27M was allocated to replace an existing Acadia National Park maintenance building that is too small, inefficient and structurally unsound. That is a good first step, but much more is needed.
Acadia has a backlog of roughly $65M worth of deferred maintenance projects. Deferred maintenance projects are defined as those that have been on hold for more than a year.
Public lands are a national treasure – and a responsibility. Public lands are also one of the things that Maine Senator Angus King consistently fights for. He urged members of Congress last week not only to increase funding for national parks but also to bring up staffing levels in the next budget bill.
Current proposed funding falls short, according to King, who explained that more is needed to dig the parks out of the backlog they are in by saying, “$2.8B on $400 billion worth of assets is not adequate, and it’s pretty frustrating as someone who really worked hard on the Great American Outdoors Act to see the administration continuing a pattern, and I’m not blaming this administration, this goes back 30 years, 40 years, but to continue a pattern of underfunding maintenance, and therefore, we’re going to have to do this again sometime in the future. I don’t want to have to do that. Let’s do our maintenance as we should right now.”
As for staffing, King proposes that staffing levels increase to meet actual demand. He said that in the last 10 years, staffing at some of America’s most popular parks – including Acadia – has remained the same while visitation has nearly doubled.
Last year specifically, Acadia National Park saw record visitation. With more than 4 million visits, the park shattered monthly and annual records, but, like other parks across the country, it struggled with staffing levels. The lack of staffing overextends the existing workforce and can result in a subpar experience for visitors who may not find bathrooms open when they need them or longer lines at vehicle checkpoints.
King has made funding the national park system a top priority, and we thank him for that. We also urge him to keep it up. After all, an investment in parks is an investment in the economic and physical well-being of this and future generations.