California News Service
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Time is short in this session of Congress, and conservation and tourism groups are hoping for a vote on a bill to address the massive maintenance backlog in the national parks.
The Restore Our Parks Act is a bipartisan proposal to direct up to $6.5 billion in revenue from offshore oil and gas royalties to fix crumbling roads and buildings, in addition to electrical and wastewater systems at the parks. Marcia Argust, project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts, said parks like Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Sequoia are crucial to the state’s tourist economy.
“California receives over 40 million visitors each year to its national parks,” Argust said. “They spend over $1.9 billion in local communities, and generate over 25,000 jobs each year.”
She said the bill has passed committee in both the U.S. House and the Senate, but it still needs a floor vote in each house – ideally before the end of the year. A recent study said that tackling the estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog could stimulate the creation of 110,000 jobs nationwide.
Rosemarie Smallcombe, supervisor for Mariposa District 1 where Yosemite National Park is located, said the hotel taxes from visitors to the park are key to funding local fire, police and public health services. But, she added, it’s about more than the economy. She said the parks should be cherished as part of our national heritage.
“They’re essential to connecting people with nature,” Smallcombe said. “And I worry that if people are not connected with nature, not only will our national parks suffer, but the sense of responsibility to protect and preserve nature may suffer.”
The National Park Service said in 2017, visitors nationwide spent $18 billion, supporting more than 300,000 jobs and generating $35 billion in economic activity.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.