Today marks the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service.
The promise of “America’s best idea” was simple but unprecedented: Protect and preserve our treasured landscapes for all the public to enjoy, in the form of national parks.
Today it’s impossible to imagine the American landscape without the likes of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Shenandoah national parks.
From Virginia’s battlefields and other historic sites preserved by the National Park Service, from Great Falls National Park to Assateague National Seashore, our parks provide recreation for Virginians and out-of-state visitors. They shelter our drinking water supplies and protect valuable wildlife habitat. The endangered Shenandoah salamander is only found living on the highest elevation peaks within Shenandoah’s boundaries.
But after 100 years, many of the challenges the National Park Service was created to address remain.Toxic uranium mines threaten the doorstep of the Grand Canyon. The oil and gas industry has tried to drill right outside the Everglades. In Virginia, our parks have been underfunded with long maintenance backlogs. And some in Congress are pushing to sell or transfer our parks to the highest bidder, and prevent new parks from being created.
Since 2005, the service’s budget has been cut by half a billion dollars — leading to long-term staff losses, closed facilities, and the growth of the $11.3 billion backlog for deferred regular maintenance. Facility and maintenance needs in Virginia total roughly $816 million. For some of Virginia's most beloved parks that includes $90 million in deferred maintenance at Shenandoah National Park, $250 million for the Blue Ridge Parkway, $1.8 million for Fort Monroe Natinoal Monument and over $11 million in deferred maintenance to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields National Military Park to name a few.
There’s no better time than the 100th anniversary of our national park system to redouble our efforts to protect our country’s most spectacular natural areas. Our top priorities include:
(1) Protecting the Grand Canyon from the threat of nearby uranium mining by encouraging President Obama to designate 1.7 million acres around the park a new Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument.
(2) Keeping public lands in public hands by urging Virginia’s congressional delegation to stand up against attempts to auction off our public lands to the highest bidder.
(3) Getting the National Park Service the support it needs. When Congress returns from its long summer recess, we’ll be urging at least $1 billion in funding to address the substantial maintenance backlog, including the millions of dollars needed to protect Virginia’s treasured parks, trails and recreation areas for the next 100 years.
We hope more Americans than ever visit our parks to celebrate. Working together — as citizens, as environmental advocates, and as political leaders — we will also do all we can to protect our parks, trails and recreation areas for the next 100 years.
Happy birthday, National Park Service! See you on the trail!