Protecting our National Parks for Future Generations

Our national park system faces a good problem. Record numbers of families, campers, and adventurers are spending time each year exploring these iconic landscapes. That’s put a strain on many of the roads visitors drive on, the centers that provide history and the trails themselves. I’ve put together a bipartisan plan for making sure our national parks remain well maintained for the next 100 years. This is personal for me because of where I was born.  

When you grow up on the Olympic Peninsula, you develop a deep connection with our country’s most amazing outdoor playground. Piling into the car for a weekend of hiking or camping in Olympic National Park became a Kilmer family staple. But our roots to the park run deeper than that. Whenever I drive on the road up Hurricane Ridge I’m reminded that my grandfather helped pave a portion of it.

For folks like my grandfather and countless others, the park is a driver of our economy. It’s given opportunities to entrepreneurs who started restaurants in Port Angeles, or guided tours based out of Sequim, or small business owners who run hotels for visitors . . . or even road paving crews. 

People are drawn to the hundreds of miles of trails and campsites because you truly won’t find any place like it. We are blessed with a park that gives you a chance to climb craggy peaks, walk through an old-growth rainforest, or take in an ocean view. These are the sorts of experiences that stick with you. 

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Increasingly, Americans have taken notice of how special a trip to a place like Olympic National Park can be. 2016 saw a record number of visits to the park. According to a National Park Service report 3,390,221 visitors in total spent more than nearly $280 million in the nearby community.  That supported more than 3,000 jobs.

It’s good news that so many are exploring our national parks. But the explosion in the number of people hasn’t just brought occasional bumper to bumper traffic to places like the visitor center in Port Angeles. It’s also meant more wear and tear for the park. There are more than 60 miles of roads to drive in Olympic National Park. Some places have become almost inaccessible. Drivers wanting to head down Olympic Hot Springs Road have to navigate a single lane temporary bridge because of washouts.

Other stretches like the paved highway to the Hoh Rain Forest trailhead have experienced flooding that has made navigating it bumpy. And slow.  In one area the roadway is so eroded that cars must go 10 miles per hour. Other areas of the park face challenges too. Many drinking fountains like the one you find at the Hoh visitor center are broken - leaving folks out of luck if they forgot a water bottle.

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Photo credit: Peninsula Daily News

This problem is not unique to Olympic National Park. The National Park Service manages and protects all 58 national parks across this country along with historic sites or monuments. But the Park Service has seen its construction and maintenance budget severely slashed. This has led to a towering maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion. 

As we see record numbers of people use the park system, it doesn’t make sense to neglect it. We want people to keep coming back. Local communities and jobs depend on it. But we can’t keep asking expert staff at our parks to keep things humming with less and less every single year. 

That’s why I’ve joined with my colleagues to introduce a bill that will jumpstart overdue maintenance projects in national parks. The National Park Service Legacy Act is bicameral and bipartisan. In fact, my friend from Texas, Representative Will Hurd, stopped by the office to officially sign the bill! 

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Our act would address this backlog by distributing revenue the government receives from oil and gas royalties back into a new restoration fund. 

Our hope is this will help better protect places like Olympic National Park for future generations. We created a park system that has served as an inspiration for so many while protecting our environment and creating opportunities for our economy. This park and others like it deserve our continued support.