Visitation to Glacier National Park has never been higher, and need for maintenance has never been greater. My Model T friends driving classy, century-old Fords helped boost the record visitation, but park repairs require attention in Washington.
2017 created volumes of historic memories in Glacier National Park. In June, over 620,000 people visited the park, 30 percent above 2016. Attendance in July topped a whopping 1 million people, a 23 percent increase and a new monthly record. Included were 400 tourists riding in 175 nicely maintained Model T Fords. They spent beaucoup bucks in Whitefish, Eureka, Polson, Kalispell and Glacier.
While this increase in park visitation brings economic benefits to local communities including those in Lincoln County where I live, travelers cause wear and tear on park resources.
This surge in visitation to Glacier hastens infrastructure aging and deterioration while annual maintenance funding from Congress is unreliable. In recent years our National Park Service put off repairs on roads, bridges, water systems, and buildings throughout Glacier. The maintenance backlog in the park totals more than $148 million.
2017 compounded GNP’s maintenance needs thanks to catastrophic wildfires. Talk about shock and awe and ruin! Some aspects of Glacier may be impossible to replace. For instance, the historic Sperry Chalet burned. Built in 1914, many of us have hiked to this spectacular chalet.
Congress must dedicate funding to our national parks to fix years of neglect and wildfire devastation.
Glacier’s not the only national park suffering from neglected maintenance. Our National Park System needs $11.3 billion for deferred infrastructure repairs. Recently, I heard Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke tell Western Governors that the previous president’s decision to cancel offshore oil leases cost DOI enough money to pay all deferred maintenance with billions left over.
No question, postponing maintenance can be more expensive in the long run. Replacing infrastructure that has been allowed to waste away costs more. Ask any Model T driver if a quart of oil is cheaper than a rebuilt engine. Treasures like national parks are no different.
There is a growing bipartisan movement in Congress to designate a dedicated funding stream solely for NPS maintenance needs. The National Park Service Legacy Act (S.751/H.R.2584), introduced this year with support from both sides of the aisle, offers a practical solution to reduce infrastructure backlog at national parks. It’s encouraging to see our leaders in Washington come together to address this important national problem.
Montanans should count our blessings – Glacier is more popular and brings more economic growth to our state and my county than ever before. Help me to encourage Washington, D.C., to ensure resources to repair infrastructure.
Republican Mike Cuffe is a Montana House representative from Eureka.