Alexander, Zinke in Smokies: “We Can Help Wipe Out National Park Maintenance Backlog in Ten Years”

Posted on April 30, 2018


“National Park Week is an especially good time to discuss how our proposal will help restore and rebuild the Smokies – and other national parks across the country — so future generations have the same opportunities to enjoy them as we have.” 

*For High resolution photos email Ashton Davies*

WEARS VALLEY, Tenn., April 28, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the closed Look Rock campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park today to discuss their plan to help address the $215 million in the Park’s backlogged maintenance needs.

Alexander is the principal sponsor of bipartisan legislation, backed by the Trump Administration, that would use proceeds from energy exploration on federal lands to pay for up to $11.6 billion of deferred maintenance backlog needs in the 417 unit in the National Park System.

The two men —along with Great Smoky Mountains National Park Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan —visited the Look Rock Campground on the Foothills Parkway, which has been closed for 5 years because of lack of funds to repair its water treatment facility, roads, picnic tables and campground pads. They then drove to the newly completed  “missing link” on the Foothills Parkway, which will be opened this fall after decades of start and stop construction because of a lack of construction and deferred maintenance funding.             

“In this age of smartphones and tablets, our national parks are even more, not less, important. We are able to escape our digital diets to feast on a world of natural splendor. National Park Week is an especially good time to discuss how our proposal will help restore and rebuild the Smokies – and other national parks across the country — so future generations have the same opportunities to enjoy them as we have,” Alexander said. “You have to look no further than the Great Smoky Mountains to see an example of why our national parks need more funding to address the maintenance backlog. The Park needs more than $215 million to repair all of the backlogged maintenance projects, but only receives about $20 million in funding every year, which has to pay for the Park’s operating budget and its maintenance needs. That means, the maintenance backlog at the Smokies is ten times the amount of funding they receive every year.”

Alexander continued: “That’s the bad news. But, the good news is Secretary Zinke and I have a proposal— supported by President Trump — that can help wipe out the Smokies’ maintenance backlog in ten years by using revenues from energy production on federal lands to provide mandatory funding for the maintenance backlog. While we have such strong support from the president and the secretary, it is my hope that Congress is able to pass our proposal this year.”

"I believe every American should have the opportunity to enjoy a National Park," Secretary Zinke said. "We had 330 million visitors in the parks last year - with that level of use, we must make a significant infrastructure investment in the National Park System. Being here on the ground in Tennessee, Senator Alexander and I have had the opportunity to see the infrastructure needs at our Parks first hand, and it is clear that we have a major problem we need to address. Our National Parks truly are our greatest treasures, and we need to treat them as such. National Park Week is the perfect time to come together around the common cause that maintaining the splendor and beauty of our parks is not a Republican or Democrat issue - it is an American issue. I deeply thank Senator Alexander and his team for the bipartisan work they are doing to fix our Parks for the next 100 years." 

Today, Alexander and Zinke toured the Look Rock Campground where Smokies’ Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan talked about the area’s maintenance needs. They also visited the “missing link” of the Foothills Parkway, which is an 16 mile section of the Parkway that is expected to be completed this fall. The senator called the Foothills Parkway “the ultimate example” of why additional funding is needed for maintenance projects. 

“If you want to see the Smokies, you’ll drive the Foothills Parkway because it’s the only road that gives you such a spectacular view of the highest mountains in the eastern United States – and it has taken decades to complete. The Foothills Parkway is the ultimate example of why additional funding is needed for maintenance projects because if there was more funding available for this project, it might not have taken so long.”

Alexander continued, “The story of the Foothills Parkway began nearly 75 years ago – only a few years after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in 1934 – when Tennesseans petitioned the National Park Service and Congress to build a new parkway outside the Smokies to help with traffic and offer visitors scenic views of the mountains. Congress authorized the new parkway in 1944, but prohibited the use of federal funds to purchase the right-of-way.  The state of Tennessee began acquiring land for the right-of-way for the new parkway in 1947 and continued until 1979.  All of the right of way was donated to the federal government, and construction of the parkway began in 1960.  According to the National Park Service, approximately $146 million has been invested in this uncompleted 16 mile section of the Foothills Parkway since 1966. And additional money was still needed to complete the project. The 16 mile section that is to be completed this fall has over $16 million in deferred maintenance – including roads, bridges, stone curbing, vista clearing needs, resurfacing of waterways and more – because routine maintenance didn’t happen over the last 30-50 years. It is important Congress provide additional funding to help address these needs quicker.”


The National Park Restoration Act:

·      Creates the National Park Restoration Fund to provide mandatory funding for the high-priority deferred maintenance needs that support critical infrastructure and visitor services at our national parks.

·      Provides mandatory funding for the maintenance backlog on top of annual appropriations for operations and construction at the National Park Service.

·      The fund would receive 50 percent of onshore and offshore revenues from energy production on federal lands over expected amounts that are not already allocated to other purposes. 

·      Protects payments to states, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Reclamation Fund, and all other existing uses of onshore and offshore revenues. These existing uses will receive all of their funding before the National Park Restoration Fund receives any funding. 

The backlog of infrastructure projects at our national parks can limit access and impair visitor experiences and recreation opportunities, and without additional funding, the backlog could continue to grow. The National Park Service (NPS) maintenance backlog is nearly four times what NPS receives in annual appropriations. In Fiscal Year 2017 the NPS’ deferred maintenance needs were $11.6 billion – that same fiscal year, NPS received $2.9 million in annual appropriations.

President Trump and Secretary Zinke have made addressing the growing maintenance backlog a top priority.