America’s birthday—and the height of the summer travel season—is upon us. Nearly 49 million Americans will shirk their grilling duties and travel over the holiday, with many choosing to celebrate our country’s independence at one of America’s more than 400 national parks.
While there is no better place to spend the Fourth of July than at a park, crumbling infrastructure and inadequate facilities due to a nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog threaten to dampen the visitor experience. Visitors’ disappointment with failing infrastructure and weathered facilities could have a much broader impact. Gateway communities across the country rely on robust parks visitation, and if visitors’ preferences shift away from parks, these communities stand to lose billions.
In 2018, 318 million parks visitors spent $20.2 billion in and around the parks, generating $40 billion in economic output and supporting 329,000 American jobs. These visitors—of which more than a third were international—help drive the economies of gateway communities, all while lowering America’s overall trade deficit. If the struggle to accommodate visitors continues, the economic benefits for gateway communities could be significantly diminished.
To preserve the parks for years to come, Congress must address the deferred maintenance backlog to protect our national parks and the economic and conservation benefits they afford.
Significant strides have been made toward achieving that goal. This week, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 1225), which has 290 cosponsors in the House, passed the House Committee on Natural Resources.
“The overwhelming support for this bill puts it in a league of its own. There have been thousands of bills introduced this Congress and fewer than ten have garnered the support enjoyed by the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act,” said Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) on the bill’s committee passage.
“The national parks are not only of great cultural and historical importance, but they also provide significant economic contributions to the regions in which they are located,” said U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Barnes. “We applaud Ranking Member Bishop and Rep. Kilmer for their leadership on the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act.”
The national parks have inspired a sense of adventure and a love of history in generations of Americans, and there is no better time than Independence Day to call attention to the needs of these special treasures. U.S. Travel will continue to work with lawmakers to move the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act forward and hopes to see its passage in the near future.