A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lawmakers urged to fund ‘complete overhaul’ of Kentucky’s aging national park infrastructure

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Eight in 10 registered voters support cleaning up and repairing the nation’s aging national parks, according to a poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

House lawmakers are considering legislation that would channel up to $6.5 billion in funding to the National Park Service to begin upgrades to crumbling roads, outdated water and sewer systems, and eroding trails and campgrounds.

Sherry Murphy, executive director of the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, says Kentucky’s national parks need what she calls a “complete overhaul.”

Mammoth Cave National Park is one of four national parks in Kentucky in need of maintenance and upgrades. (Photo from Adobe Stock. via PNS)

“Those infrastructure-type projects aren’t glamorous, but they’re necessities for those parks to be able to continue to operate,” she states. “And then, of course, the roads and bridges themselves. It’s one thing to feel a pothole; it’s another when the road needs to be resurfaced.”

Kentucky is home to Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and Mammoth Cave National Park.

Collectively, these parks have racked up more than $111 million of deferred maintenance.

Murphy also points out that for many communities, national parks are the backbone of economic activity.

“Here in Kentucky, our national park system is responsible for over 1,500 jobs,” she says. “Our national park system also means $142 million into the economy from visitors. So it is a huge impact on those communities.”

To address the maintenance backlog, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would use money from oil and gas company fees paid to the federal government.

Kentucky isn’t the only state with maintenance needs. Marcia Argust, project director for the Restore America’s Parks Campaign, part of The Pew Charitable Trusts, says it’s been 50 years since the nation’s national parks have seen significant investment.

“Over two-thirds of the House and one-third of the Senate support legislation to fix our parks,” she states. “It’s time for congressional leadership to take the next step, and that next step is allowing a vote on this legislation.”

According to the Pew poll, voters from all sides of the political spectrum say keeping the country’s parks and monuments pristine and up to date is important.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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