As retired superintendent and nearby resident of Voyageurs National Park, I’m happy to lend my voice to Minnesota’s celebration of National Park Week, April 21-29. It’s worth taking time to focus on the six national treasures our state has to offer — and that nearly 1 million people will enjoy this year.
From Voyageurs to Grand Portage, to the Mississippi and Pipestone, our state is blessed with exceptional national parks sites which are seeing record numbers of visitors — and for good reason. They offer pristine landscapes, opportunities to hike, fish, camp and recreate. And we certainly aren’t alone for record visitation. In 2017, the National Park Service received nearly 331 million visits, falling just short of 2016’s record-breaking year.Ne
Unfortunately, our National Park System has maintenance needs totaling $11.6 billion nationwide, largely due to aging infrastructure and unreliable funding. The estimated price tag to address repairs within park sites in Minnesota comes to $17.8 million.
Neglected buildings, outdated campgrounds …
These repairs include eroding trails, neglected historic buildings, deteriorating monuments, outdated campgrounds, and faulty water and electrical systems – all things that can make park sites inaccessible and unsafe. Beyond that, studies have shown that when we don’t invest in our national parks it negatively impacts local economies that depend on park visitation.
Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota, a uniquely water based national park, is in need of $14.8 million in maintenance, mostly from crumbling buildings across the park. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, stretching 72 miles from Ramsey County to Hastings, needs $682,355 in repairs.
Fortunately, there are bipartisan bills in Congress that would provide dedicated yearly funding to repair and rehabilitate our national parks. The National Park Service Legacy Act (H.R. 2584) has 35 Republicans and 35 Democrats signed on in the House — a level of bipartisanship almost unheard of in Washington these days. A Senate companion bill has been introduced, too. Minnesotans Rep. Eric Paulsen and Sen. Amy Klobuchar are cosponsors on this legislation. A similar proposal, the National Park Restoration Act, was recently introduced with the focus of addressing maintenance needs in our parks.
This support and recognition of our national treasures bodes well for national parks as Congress crafts a national infrastructure plan to improve transportation, power, and telecommunications networks across the country. The roads, buildings and utility systems within national parks need to be part of the discussion, and I hope Congress does not delay this discussion.
Job creation and support
The other huge benefit to addressing crumbling infrastructure in our national parks is job creation and support. A report commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts last year shows that fixing our national parks could create and support more than 110,000 jobs nationwide. A majority of those jobs would be in non-metro areas, something that would help rural areas of our state that often struggle through the winter when tourism is down. Here in Minnesota that investment would support hundreds of new jobs in planning, road building, construction and carpentry, among other positions.
There’s a reason national parks are popular. They are places that tell our unique American story. They teach our children the value of protecting our land and respecting our natural areas. They honor the men and women who fought and died to help make this country what it is today. And they provide a place of solace to the wounded veteran, the adventurous hiker, the one who seeks the road less traveled.
That’s why we owe it to ourselves and to those who come after us to preserve and protect our national parks. Let’s encourage our elected leaders in Minnesota to stand with us to get the job done.
Kate Lidfors Miller is a native Minnesotan and retired superintendent of Voyageurs National Park who lives on Rainy Lake, just outside the park boundary.
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