Senator Lamar Alexander on Friday hiked the Rainbow Falls Trail at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, park volunteers, and young conservationists to mark the 101st anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. Senator Alexander praised the secretary for his efforts to address the growing maintenance needs in national parks and on public lands and the more than 2,200 Park volunteers who help reduce the maintenance backlog in the Smokies.
"Secretary Zinke is trying to solve a big problem – our national parks are struggling with a backlog of maintenance needs that are not being addressed.
The maintenance backlog – which includes roads, buildings, campgrounds, trails, water systems and more – limits access to our national parks and diminishes visitor experiences,” Alexander said. “In the Smokies, the maintenance backlog exceeds $200 million – and 80 percent of that is roads. Park employees and volunteers are filling this gap and doing a lot of things we take for granted. Every year, roughly 2,200 volunteers donate nearly 120,000 hours to the Smokies – helping to maintain trails, serving as campground hosts and doing all kinds of things to make visitors feel welcome and learn more about the Park.
“It is important to do everything we can to help the next generation enjoy the great American outdoors like we have. We have a responsibility to address the growing maintenance needs in our national parks and on our public lands, so we must come up with innovative ways to fund the repairs to our park’s roads, bridges, trails and campgrounds. Secretary Zinke is exploring ways to do that – and I support his efforts. The secretary grew up outside of a national park – as I did – and he understands the importance of addressing the maintenance backlog in order to help get the next generation of visitors out to our nation’s parks.”
Senator Alexander said a successful example of how to try to tackle funding for the maintenance needs of national parks today is the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“When I chaired the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, one of the main recommendations of the commission was to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – with a very simple idea, if we have an environmental burden, we should have an environmental benefit. LWCF is just one example of an innovative way to provide funding for important conservation and recreation efforts.”
Today, Senator Alexander and Secretary Zinke hiked with Park volunteers and young people participating in the American Conservation Experience on Rainbow Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to mark the 101st anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. Last year, Senator Alexander hiked the Fighting Creek Nature Trail with middle and high school students to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial celebration.
In 1984, at the 50th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Alexander played the piano with the Knoxville Symphony in Cades Cove. Alexander and the symphony performed again in Cades Cove at the 75th anniversary of the park in 2009.
Senator Alexander has said, “Documentarian Ken Burns called the U.S. National Park Service, ‘America’s best idea,’ and if Burns is right, then the Great Smoky Mountains National Park must be 'America’s best idea’ because each year it attracts nearly twice as many visitors than any other national park.”