NPS Centennial Act
H.R. 4680 – National Park Service Centennial Act
House Chambers, Washington, D.C.
This year marked the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service and of the uniquely American notion that our most beautiful and historic lands should be set aside for the use, resort and recreation of the American people as set forth in the original Yosemite Grant Act. Or, in the words of the Organic Act of 1916 that established the National Parks, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same.”
Yet, a century into this endeavor, the Park Service faces considerable challenges to achieving these objectives. The Park Service’s original charge was to manage just 35 national parks and monuments. Today, it is responsible for over 400 units across 84 million acres. This exponential growth has left many locations in disrepair, facing a growing backlog of deferred maintenance, now exceeding $12 billion.
In addition to desperately needed maintenance, the Park Service also faces challenges with fee collection, technological upgrades, management of concessions contracts for visitor services, and most disturbingly, a substantial decrease in over-night visitation. The decline has been particularly high among young people. Recent reports indicate that visits to parks by those 15 years of age and younger has fallen by half in the last decade.
The National Park Service Centennial Act provides the Park Service with new tools and authorities it can use to maintain and improve the system. Provisions in this bill help reduce the Service’s deferred maintenance backlog by generating new revenue to pay for needed capital improvements and leveraging private philanthropic donations to amplify this effort. In turn, these funds will be used to enhance visitor services, provide wi-fi and cellular access that young people demand and expand the Volunteers in Parks and Public Lands Corps programs that are so important in welcoming the public to the public lands.
I believe the three greatest challenges to federal lands management are to restore public access to the public lands, to restore sound management to the public lands, and to restore the federal government as a good neighbor to those communities directly affected by the public lands.
This bill does all three. It promotes public access and enjoyment of the parks by promoting the expansion, modernization and improvement of visitor services and amenities. It promotes good management by placing priority and generating funds to address the growing maintenance backlog. And it repairs the relationship between the federal and local governments by giving local officials a say in future historic designations.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the last century and begin the next century of our National Park Service than to restore the vision of its founders.