Aug. 25 marked the second century start of the National Park Service, a remarkable milestone for our nation. The Everglades, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone are awe-inspiring destinations that are symbols of who we are and where we have been. Wild landscapes, natural preserves, military sites, monuments and memorials from Pensacola to Key West epitomize the people and places in Florida.
Biscayne boasts aquamarine waters, emerald islands and coral reefs just beyond the downtown Miami skyline. Sea turtles find refuge and nest on the 24 miles of beach they share with millions of visitors at Canaveral National Seashore. Sons, daughters, parents and grandparents enjoy the immersive tours, swamp buggies and air boats to experience the swamps at Big Cypress. Travelers take a boat or seaplane to spend the night at Fort Jefferson, which sits on the Dry Tortugas surrounded by stunning crystal clear blue water.
As top travel destinations in Florida, our 11 national parks serve as an integral boost to the economy and jobs. Our tourism industry depends on national parks to remain strong and vibrant for both the more than 113 million visitors to the state and its 20 million residents. Historic and cultural sites need to be accessible for all to ensure they remain popular destinations for tourists and residents alike.
As executive director of the Florida Association of Museums, a nonprofit organization that works to enhance the ability of museums to serve the public interest, investing in our parks makes sense. It preserves our heritage for generations, creates infrastructur-related jobs and protects local communities that depend on park tourism.
For every dollar spent on maintaining our national parks, there is a $10 return. In 2016, 10.9 million park visitors spent an estimated $653 million in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Servce lands in Florida. This supported approximately 10,000 jobs, $347.1 million in labor income and $949.1 million in economic output to the state’s economy, positively impacting the camping, hotel, restaurant, retail, recreation and transportation sectors.
Unfortunately, with this popularity comes increased wear and tear on facilities, roads, bridges and trails, and some of Florida’s greatest treasures need our support.
National parks across our state are struggling to maintain crumbling roads, deteriorating buildings and unsafe water, sewer and electrical systems. Of the estimated $11.3 billion maintenance backlog across the country, more than $253 million is needed right here in Florida.
The time is long overdue to invest in park infrastructure.
This year, bipartisan legislation has been introduced by Sens. Warner (D-VA) and Porter (R-OH) and Reps. Hurd (R-Texas) and Kilmer (D-WA) to bring much-needed assistance to the National Park Service. The National Park Service Legacy Act (S. 751/H.R. 2584) would provide dedicated annual funding to address deferred maintenance needs. Florida Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Darren Soto and Ted Deutch have stepped up to the plate and co-sponsored the House version of the bill.
We all must support addressing the infrastructure repair backlog throughout these parks and ask the rest of Florida’s congressional delegation to champion efforts to put national parks back on sound financial footing for the future.
This includes supporting the National Park Service Legacy Act, which will reduce the estimated $11.3 billion backlog over time; implementing policy reforms that will help to prevent the repair backlog from accruing; providing more highway funding for Park Service transportation maintenance needs; and creating more opportunities for public-private partnerships and donations to supplement funding.
If you believe in restoring America’s national parks for future generations and the health of our economy and tourism industry, we urge you to contact your congressional leaders and tell them to support the National Park Service Legacy Act (S. 751/H.R. 2584).
We need to fix our parks before it’s too late.
Malinda J. Horton is executive director of the Florida Association of Museums, a nonprofit organization for Florida’s museums and museum professionals.