Our national parks are an important source of pride for our country. But they are in the midst of a rising crisis that has been building over many years. Simply put, they are falling apart. They are in desperate need of repair and maintenance. Fixing them will require billions of dollars.
While Congress is preparing to act soon on legislation, it is vital that it include dedicated funding in perpetuity. This will help the next generation to fix future problems without having to put the cost on the nation’s credit card.
To address the current maintenance backlog, it would cost nearly $12 billion, according to the National Park Service. In comparison, last year, the entire budget for the National Park Service was $4.1 billion. And Congress is already struggling to find funding for other worthwhile federal needs.
Unfortunately, this Great American Outdoors Act as currently written represents only a one-time fix that just adds to our national debt, instead of trying to plan for the future. We must be even more vigilant in finding proper ways to ensure our government spending is paid for, and fixing this bill can be an important place to start.
That is why for the past several years, I have worked on a fix that would create permanent funding for our parks so we can address long-term maintenance responsibly.
This fix would ensure that foreign visitors, who as the numbers show are increasingly enjoying our parks, pay $16 or $25 more when entering the country to help cover the maintenance costs of their visit. Many countries charge different user fees for their international visitors, so the concept is not new.
Our fix would also increase citizens’ park user fees by $5. I understand that asking anybody to pay more at this time is difficult, but the costs to enter our parks would still be quite reasonable. While each park charges different fees, bringing a vehicle into a park would still be cheaper than taking a family of four to a movie.
The current bill being considered by the Senate will force our country to borrow more money, burying us deeper in debt, and only provide funding for 5 years. The bill also tries some budget trickery claiming we can spend the same money twice.
My amendment to the bill would instead provide a permanent solution without budget gimmicks. It would help ensure that we wouldn’t need to address this issue again down the line and would ensure the money is counted properly.
I grew up in our nation’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, spending summers there with my grandparents. I still cherish those times. As one of Wyoming’s senators for the past 23 years, I have had the honor of representing the people of Wyoming and our part in the National Park System, which includes Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Fort Laramie and Devils Tower.
We as a nation have seen the joy that our national parks bring to those who venture out and visit them. In Wyoming and all across the country, America’s national parks are something to be proud of and protect. We owe it to the parks – and to the citizens and foreign visitors who partake in their wonders – to keep them in good working order. We should not allow the maintenance and repairs to fester, which erodes visitor experiences and costs billions to fix.
That is why I believe so strongly in my amendment to help fix the Great American Outdoors Act. This will help ensure we no longer have to put our parks’ current obligations on the backs of future generations. I know the amount at stake here won’t end our fiscal crisis, but if we can’t do something modest to start to address our spending addiction, then we are in greater trouble than I thought.
Mike Enzi is one of Wyoming’s two U.S. Senators.