By Etienne Laffargue, Policy Intern

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park. Credit: Chuck Fazio, our Artist-in-Residence.

Over the last century, the National Park Service (NPS) has played an essential role in forest preservation and outdoor recreation in the United States. Lately, it has been reaching out to the public through a variety of ways, but as it moves into its second century, the Service still faces important maintenance backlog and budget issues.

The “Find Your Park” initiative was adopted by the National Park Service to attract a new generation of visitors to the outdoors. It was promoted by Bill Nye the Science Guy by means of a short video in which he picks up two surprised New Yorkers from a taxi cab and treats them to an exclusive tour of the city’s parks and monuments — click here to watch it! This past year, the president’s administration has also been encouraging kids and families to explore the outdoors though a program called “Every Kid in a Park.” All fourth graders are now entitled to a free pass to the National Parks for the entirety of a year!

These programs are a prelude to the day the National Park Service celebrates its centennial, August 25, 2016, and folks are excited about it.

Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska said in a recent hearing concerning the administration’s proposed National Park Service Centennial Act that this anniversary “offers us a chance to ensure the national park systems’ sustainability for the next 100 years to come is in place.” She also added, “I think it will take a serious effort to achieve that goal.”

And, rightly so. The conversation during the two hearings on the Centennial Act (S. 2257 and H.R. 3556) centered on the enormity of the maintenance backlog and how much of it can to be addressed. The current backlog of all NPS units has a price tag of $11.5 billion due to facility construction dating back to the ‘60s, the increase in visitations and the lack of allocated funding to restore the infrastructure. In the previous federal funding requests, the administration has asked for appropriations at the level of the hundreds of millions which would only make a small dent in the maintenance backlog. Still, Congress is not convinced that money alone will resolve the issue. NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis says monuments are being destroyed because there is no money to maintain them and insists that the money that is appropriated goes first to maintenance to protect the health and safety of visitors and workers.

As a French citizen, I consider myself lucky to have explored a wide range of diverse National Parks both in the East and the West of the United States. I have wonderful memories in parks such as Shenandoah National Park close to Washington, D.C. and Yosemite in California. These landscapes are natural wonders. As I reflect on my internship at American Forests, I am happy to have done my part to raise awareness about the issues these parks face. The experience of America’s national parks, and their diverse wildlife, is one of the greatest gifts America gave to me during my visits, and I will ever be grateful to the men and women taking care of these treasures. I hope Congress will have the courage to invest in much needed renovation and maintenance on the National Parks and other units, which are really international treasures.

If you also are grateful for the natural wonders that the Park Service protects, stay passionate, share your experiences, stay tuned on the Centennial Act and celebrations and find out about exciting projects that celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park service, such as this one around Lake Jenny, Grand Teton National Park’s most visited destination!