There is no better reminder of why it’s great to be an American than the majesty, beauty, and richness of our history contained within our national parks. From Yosemite to the Grand Canyon, to Vicksburg National Military Park here in Mississippi, the story of America is made available for all to experience. This year our National Park Service marks its 100-year anniversary and we all should celebrate this national treasure.
Established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, today the National Park Service oversees more than 400 natural and cultural sites. Mississippi is home to eight national parks, 43 natural and historic landmarks and monuments, historic places, and more, and our residents have long enjoyed their recreational and cultural benefits.
These sites not only evoke our rich historical and natural resources, they also generate more than $200 million annually to the Mississippi economy. These are vital economic benefits that reach throughout our state – from Corinth to Natchez – including:
• $10.5 million in visitor spending from visitors to Natchez Historical Park;
• $29.5 million in spending related to Shiloh National Military Park;
• $31 million in spending related to Vicksburg National Military Park; and
• $127 million spent annually in the Mississippi sections of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Natchez Trace Parkway.
As we celebrate the National Park Service centennial, we need to face the fact that to continue to enjoy our excellent National Park Service, we cannot continue to ignore the basic infrastructure funding.
Unfortunately, for many years Congress has provided unreliable annual funding to the National Park Service. We now have a $12 billion backlog in maintenance repairs in national parks across the country. In Mississippi, our parks need $308 million to bring roads, bridges, monuments, historic structures and trails up to standard. The costs to fund the repairs for the Natchez Trace alone are $284 million.
Years of congressional underfunding mean that in Mississippi our parks have had to postpone repairs to roads and bridges that are crucial to providing access to the parks. Trail maintenance also has dwindled, affecting hiker and cyclist access and safety. And, historic sites that are so important to our culture may be negatively impacted if funding is not sufficient.
These maintenance delays also hurt visitors. When cultural sites and natural areas become inaccessible or unsafe, teachers and historians are unable to interpret important cultural history. And by preventing access to local, out-of-state, and foreign visitors, tourist dollars are no longer part of the economy. This impacts residents in communities adjacent to national parks who are dependent on park tourism for their economic livelihood.
Fortunately, elected leaders in Natchez, Ridgeland, Tupelo and Vicksburg – all cities that are gateways to our national parks – have passed resolutions urging Congress to take bipartisan action to provide a more predictable stream of resources to fund the park infrastructure repairs.
These leaders know the economic, cultural and historical importance of these national parks to Mississippi. And they are joined by hundreds of community organizations and local businesses and citizens who have gone on record in support of congressional action to fund badly needed repairs.
As Republican President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
On this 100-year anniversary of our National Park Service, we should reach out to Congress and remind them that our national parks showcase our heritage and the natural grandeur of this great nation. It’s not right to allow them to fall into disrepair.
Our national parks showcase the natural magnificence of our great country. We must invest in our national parks and maintain these national treasures for future generations to enjoy.