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Congress Debates How To Fund National Park Infrastructure Needs

Mt. Rainier National Park

From washed out roads to deteriorating buildings, the National Park System in the U.S. has a lot of deferred maintenance needs. It’s estimated it will take $11.6 billion to fund all of them. The U.S. Congress is debating how best to come up with the money.When Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended raising National Park entrance fees to $70, there was a great cry from the public and Zinke backed off the proposal. But the question remains of how best to fund the infrastructure needs of the parks, including deferred maintenance.

At a hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Marc Berejka, REI Director of Government and Community Affairs, testified.

He was asked about the idea of imposing fees on outdoor recreation businesses. Berejka said it was the wrong way to raise money for the parks.

“In most states they don’t tax milk because milk is good for you, and we feel the outdoors is good for you so there’s no reason to make it harder for people to acquire the things that make their lives better,” Berejka said.

He says although REI is a large company, the majority of outdoor recreation companies are small, "main street" businesses.

During the hearing, ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell, of Washington, talked about the need for a major funding boost for the National Park Service.

She said that’s what happened in the 1950s when Congress approved the Mission 66 project, which allocated $1 billion to the parks over a 10 year period.

“Mission 66 recognized that we needed to improve the parks and make them accessible for rapid growth and visitation and outdoor recreation, and I feel that we’re now at that point where we should make a similar major mission investment,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell said the National Parks, including Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park, are substantial economic drivers in the rural communities they are near.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.