America’s national parks and other public spaces are suffering from neglect. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers wants to help them, but passage of the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act remains stubbornly elusive.
Deferred maintenance at national parks now totals $12 billion nationwide. The country has postponed upkeep for years, and the problem only gets worse. Think of it like a homeowner. A small leak in the roof is an annoyance. Put off repairs long enough, though, and you’ll have to replace the entire roof, a ceiling and some water-damaged floors.
Florida is blessed with beautiful and important National Park Service spaces, and they, like others around the country, need serious help. It would cost $240 million to close the maintenance backlog at sites in the state.
Everglades National Park alone needs $75 million worth of work. Visitors now find bumpy roads and limited infrastructure. The Flamingo Lodge and cottages once were the only major lodging facility in the park. Then in 2005, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma slammed into Florida, trashing them so badly that they haven’t re-opened, though, in 2017, the park service announced plans to rebuild Flamingo lodging. Now visitors mostly have campgrounds at which they can stay, but even those are rough after years of neglect. Meanwhile, on the other side of the expansive Everglades, Hurricane Irma ruined the original Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
The National Park Service is raising some money for Everglades repairs with increased fees, but it’s far from enough. Plus, every increase threatens to make visiting cost-prohibitive for some families.
Biscayne National Park is pretty well off with only $1.5 million in deferred maintenance. Dry Tortugas National Park’s crumbling historic moat walls and other repairs, on the other hand, need $63 million.
The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would provide $6.5 billion over five years to start chipping away at the national backlog. It wouldn’t take care of everything, but about half of the need is a really good start. Best of all, the funds wouldn’t come from taxpayers but from energy companies that pay for leases on public lands and waters. That means oil, gas and coal extraction as well as green energy like wind and solar.
More than 200 representatives and 37 senators of both major parties have cosponsored their respective versions of the act. Despite so much support, the bills have languished in committees.
South Florida’s delegation represents well on the list of cosponsors. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is notably missing, though. Part of the Everglades and the Big Cypress National Preserve are in his district. Likewise, Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott need to step up.
Supporting national parks shouldn’t be hard for lawmakers. The parks are popular. Nearly 10 million people visited Florida’s National Park Service sites last year, and more than 300 million nationwide. Those visitors provide an economic boost to communities around parks.
At a time when bipartisanship sometimes seems impossible, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act is a chance for lawmakers to accomplish something important across party lines. America holds its public lands in trust for future generations. Let’s not hand them off with the roof falling in.