Marin Voice: Saving America’s national parks for future generations
Marin Independent Journal
August 24, 2016
Venturing around Muir Woods, I am always awestruck by the vast redwoods and beauty of my surroundings, but I also have to marvel at the foresight of the American leaders who acted to protect the scenery, natural historic places and wildlife that our country possesses.
One hundred years ago Thursday, Congress took the visionary step of creating the National Park Service to look after our nation’s incredible natural heritage.
The progressive Republican whose district I now represent in Congress, William Kent, authored the 1916 law, and donated the coastal redwood groves that would become Muir Woods National Monument. We are all indebted to him and his contemporaries who helped establish the national park system, “America’s best idea.”
OUR PARKS ARE A DRAW
The National Park Service has the sacred duty of protecting many of California’s most iconic attractions, from the mighty redwoods, headlands and beaches of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in our Bay Area backyard to the ancient sequoias of Yosemite to the scorching deserts of Death Valley.
And, the NPS also manages sites that remind us of our complex history like the César E. Chávez National Monument. The Golden State’s wild places and landmarks are a draw for Americans and international tourists alike.
INVIGORATING OUR ECONOMY
Our national parks aren’t just pretty, they’re also huge economic drivers.
In 2015 alone, America’s national parks and historic and cultural sites had over 307 million visitors and generated an estimated $16.9 billion for nearby communities, fueling almost 300,000 jobs and boosting our national economy by $32 billion.
And right here in California, we are benefiting the most with the most national park tourist spending totaling $1.8 billion.
And, our parks are more popular than ever.
But after years of rising visitation and insufficient congressional funding, they’re showing their age. Crumbling roads and bridges, rotting historic buildings, eroding trails, outdated public buildings, and safety hazards are part of a growing repair backlog that is currently estimated at almost $12 billion.
Our California parks alone are in need of more than $1.7 billion in repairs, with a staggering $800 million in deferred maintenance needed for GGNRA and Yosemite.
INVESTING IN OUR PARKS
Continued underfunding of our parks puts visitor access and safety at risk, and it seriously threatens local economies and jobs.
Investments in our national parks are always the right call: studies show every dollar invested in the NPS effectively returns $10 to the national economy.
To celebrate this centennial, we should build on the work of the leaders behind these national parks.
Take the beautiful Muir Woods, which I’m fortunate to have in my district. Not only does it protect the magnificent redwoods, it represents the work of 20th century political champions from Rep. Kent to President Theodore Roosevelt, and conservation leaders including John Muir and Gifford Pinchot.
Let’s expand on their groundbreaking work that still pays dividends today.
We can start by preserving visitor access to places that drive millions of visitors to communities and small businesses, and expanding on the Obama administration’s work to connect the parks to younger visitors and more diverse communities.
Congress must also provide dedicated funding to maintain these treasures, and secure permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund that helps to conserve parks and public lands.
In 1916, Congress showed remarkable leadership in establishing a first-of-its-kind agency to protect our natural and cultural heritage. A century later, our parks still serve as a model for the world.
Let’s lead once again by providing the funding needed to maintain the national parks, and to ensure they remain protected and accessible for the next century and beyond.