Centennial could aid national parks’ infrastructure backlog

Under President Dwight D. Eisehower, the nation prepared for the 50th birthday of the National Park Service with a spending splurge that refurbished Independence Hall in Philadelphia and helped complete the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. This year, the world-famous system turns 100 and the celebration will be far more modest.

The Obama administration and Republican lawmakers have vastly different ideas about what to do. Both parties agree that the country’s national parks and historic sites could use some sprucing up. Their shared goal is to use the centennial to improve trails, visitor centers, campgrounds and other park features that need maintenance work.

The question is how much of a dent Congress will make in a system-wide maintenance backlog with an estimated $11.5 billion price tag.
President Barack Obama has recommended spending an additional $1.5 billion on the parks over a three-year period. Republican leaders in Congress have a smaller birthday present in mind.

Complaints about the backlog extend decades. For instance, President George W. Bush noted during a 2001 speech at Everglades National Park that “many parks lack the resources they need for basic care and maintenance.” He promised to restore and renew America’s national parks. At the time, the maintenance backlog stood at about $5.5 billion. The September 11 terror attacks would soon upend the nation’s spending priorities though.

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