The Daily Times: Senate approves bill that would fund repairs for GSMNP

Posted on June 17, 2020

By: Shelby Harris

June 17, 2020


The United States Senate on Wednesday passed a bipartisan bill that would provide funding for deferred maintenance on national parks.

The Great American Outdoors Act, introduced by Sen. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.), would cut in half the national parks’ deferred maintenance bills.

Altogether, the country’s national parks have a deferred maintenance backlog of $12 billion.

“We’re talking about deferred maintenance — things that are broken and don’t work and interfere with the ability of the American people to go outdoors,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a supporter of the bill.

Alexander, a Maryville native, voiced approval of the bill in a Tuesday conference call with reporters — calling it the “most important conservation and outdoor recreation legislation in the last half-century.”

Alexander, who lives in Blount County adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, specifically referenced Look Rock Picnic Area, a campground that closed in 2013 due to sewage issues because of deferred maintenance.

In total, the Smokies have more than $224 million of deferred maintenance with a yearly budget of $20 million. The park has 12 million visitors a year — more than any other national park.

“You don’t have to have gone too far in mathematics in the Maryville public school system to understand that it would probably take 15, 20, 25 years, or never, to be able to get rid of the deferred maintenance in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — our most visited national park,” Alexander said. “We’ll never get these backlogs fixed if we don’t pass a bill like this.”

The bill also would fund permanently the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided about $221.4 million for conservation and outdoor recreation efforts since the 1960s.

Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education would receive support through the bill.

The Great American Outdoors Act must now be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives before being forwarded to the desk of President Donald Trump, who has tweeted support of the bill.