Summer vacation is now underway and many families are looking forward to a camping trip or a day visit at one of our country’s amazing national parks.
To those travelers, we have a suggestion: In addition to the scenery, take note of the infrastructure problems at the public places you visit. Then when you return home, push your elected officials to fix them.
It was just a couple months ago that federal leaders backed off a plan to jack up entrance fees at many of our most popular national parks. The rate hike would have put more money toward the $11 billion backlog of maintenance needs throughout the park system, but it was a bad approach.
While most people understand the need to repair park roads, tunnels and bridges, the backlash to the proposal was fierce and forced Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to change his mind.
Initially he wanted to raise prices to as much as $70 per car, which was considered outrageous by the thousands of people who complained.
Such a drastic increase surely would have made visiting the parks unaffordable for many families, which is unacceptable. Public parks must be accessible to the public.
In addition, a higher entrance fee also likely would result in fewer visitors, which would hurt the economy of nearby towns relying on tourism money.
Zinke instead agreed to implement a more modest fee increase of $5 at 17 of the most highly-visited sites.
Two of those parks are in Washington state — Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park — and the cost to enter both is now $30 per car for a seven-day pass, $15 for a person on foot, $25 for a motorcycle, and $55 for an annual pass.
While the slight increase is a start, it won’t be enough to fully address the problem. A better plan for the parks must come from Congress.
The National Park Service is over 100 years old and many of our parks are not aging well. Restrooms, trails, sewage and electrical systems and roads are broken already or deteriorating to the point where they soon will be unusable.
Several proposals have been introduced, but the strongest bill so far is the National Park Service Legacy Act, which would rely on non-allocated money from the on-shore and off-shore production of oil, gas, coal.
A study commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that if the deferred maintenance backlog was fully addressed, more than 110,000 jobs could be created or supported nationwide, including 3,826 in Washington.
Fixing our national parks and creating jobs sounds like a winning idea. Over the next three months, as the number of visitors to our parks swell, Congress should keep that in mind.