This Fourth of July, America will celebrate its 243rd birthday. Our country has come a long way since 1776, and there is still more progress to be made. Our independence and our patriotism are what set the United States apart from the rest of the world, and we have a lot to be thankful for.
As we gather with our family and friends to celebrate our freedom, we should also celebrate some of our nation’s finest treasures: our national parks and public lands.
Washington state is fortunate to be home to 15 National Park Service (NPS) parks, which generated $507.8 million in revenue and provided for over 6,500 jobs in 2017. These parks serve a wide range of people from the hikers and campers of the North Cascades National Park in Central Washington to the historically curious visitors at the Manhattan Project National Historical Site in Tri-Cities.
Unfortunately, the state of these parks and NPS sites has steadily declined. The sites are loved and well-used, but they are in desperate need of maintenance. Historically inconsistent funding and increasing visitor rates have resulted in crumbling infrastructure, inaccessible trails, and aging water systems. It is estimated that our parks have accumulated nearly $12 billion in maintenance and repairs that are necessary to keep them open and flourishing.
Millions of people have enjoyed our national parks, and it is our duty to ensure the same for future generations. I cosponsored the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, which will enable NPS and other federal agencies to address the growing maintenance backlog at our national parks.
This important legislation, which was co-introduced by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), empowers NPS, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Education to preserve our parks and our nation’s history. Not only do these public lands provide opportunities for recreation like backpacking, boating, and cross-country skiing, they also provide economic benefits to surrounding cities and towns, also known as “gateway communities.” Park visitors support small and locally owned businesses, and visitor spending supports job creation. We can generate revenue and attract people from all over the world if we maintain our national parks at a level we can be proud of.
Our national parks greatly contribute to our history, our culture, and our economy in the United States and in Central Washington. I will continue to work to preserve our public lands, so our children and grandchildren can enjoy them just as we have. Addressing this maintenance backlog is a strong first step. I look forward to the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act coming to the House floor for a vote.
I wish you and your family a very happy Independence Day, and I hope you have the chance to get out and explore one of the many beautiful national parks in the Pacific Northwest sometime soon.
Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.