The Jackson Sun: Sen. Lamar Alexander works to restore Shiloh, national parks

Posted on August 17, 2018

The Jackson Sun: Sen. Lamar Alexander works to restore Shiloh, national parks

By Deborah Teague

August 17, 2018

https://www.jacksonsun.com/story/opinion/columnists/2018/08/17/column-deobrah-teague-parks-act-restore-shiloh-other-parks/988668002/

 

Everyone can agree that America’s national parks are some of its greatest treasures — they offer stunning landscapes, extraordinary wildlife and a glimpse of history where it happened. That snapshot of the country’s past is what makes West Tennessee’s Shiloh National Military Park so special.

Imagine a Tennessee history student’s excitement at visiting Shiloh only to find outdated interpretive materials, park education and visitor center buildings in poor conditions, and roads and landscapes in disrepair, among other things. Sadly, that is the case at Shiloh, and all of our national parks.

Repairs have been delayed time and again, and the National Park Service, which manages these sites, is unreliably funded. That is why I want to thank Tennessee’s own Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) for stepping up and sponsoring the Restore Our Parks Act. This bill will provide dedicated funding to help the NPS preserve the glory of Tennessee’s national parks and those across the nation.

The NPS will turn 102 years old on Aug. 25. With age comes deterioration, but the federal government has not done enough to help. Facing a total cost in 2017 of $11.6 billion nationwide, NPS is struggling to repair its buildings and lands, and maintain the safety of electric and water systems.

Shiloh National Military Park is a place that many of us in West Tennessee — like the young history scholar — hold close to our hearts. It’s representative of the state’s national heritage as part of American history.

In 1862, this park was the site of the Battle of Shiloh, one of the first major skirmishes of the Civil War’s Western front, where almost 24,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed. The result of the battle was a strategic victory for the Union as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant led his forces through Tennessee.

Aside from the history that accompanies the beautiful sights, our national parks bring in a lot of money to nearby communities. In 2017, visitors to Shiloh spent a total of $24.9 million in the area around the park. The benefit to local economies was just shy of $29 million in economic output.

I know that the rural towns and small businesses near the park rely on that business, and in order to keep their economy booming and visitor numbers steady, the park needs to be well maintained. This directly affects the quality of experience that visitors get. Maintaining the park affects the livelihoods of the 375 people who derive their jobs from Shiloh, and the countless small businesses that benefit from it. After all, 95.6 percent of visitor spending at Shiloh is from non-local visitors. We need to make sure that those tourists keep coming back. 

Therefore, the bipartisan legislation, introduced by Sens. Alexander, Mark Warner (D-VA), Angus Stanley King (I-Maine), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), is so important. The Restore Our Parks Act would directly address the $11.6 billion backlog in deferred maintenance system-wide by establishing the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund. The fund would provide reliable monies for deferred maintenance projects by establishing a dedicated fund using royalties from federal onshore, offshore, and renewable energy revenues.

The bill is a reasonable, bipartisan solution to a problem that affects almost every state in the nation. I applaud Sen. Alexander for recognizing how much this matters to rural Tennessee, and for working across the aisle to find a solution. Tennessee — and that young history student — is lucky to be represented in the Senate by someone who recognizes the history, the heritage, and the economic impact of our national parks.

Deborah Teague is secretary of the Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield Association.