Senator Lamar Alexander spoke with members of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce Friday about legislation he will introduce in the coming weeks to help address the $215 million backlog of projects in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Senator Alexader said, "The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – as well as other national parks across our state and our country -- 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 visitors’ experience,” Alexander said.
“In the Smokies, the maintenance backlog exceeds $200 million – and around 75 percent 80 percent of that is roads. Park employees and volunteers are filling this gap and doing a lot of things we take for granted. Last year, roughly 2,800 volunteers donated nearly 115,000 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.
“President Trump and Secretary Zinke have made addressing the growing maintenance backlog a top priority, and I agree we have a responsibility to address the growing maintenance backlog in our national parks. This is an issue Congress has been focused on for many years, and working with Secretary Zinke, I hope to introduce legislation in the coming weeks with some of my colleagues to help restore and rebuild our parks.
“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s treasures – and it has a tremendous economic impact in East Tennessee, attracting nearly twice the visitors of any other national park. Addressing the $215 million backlog of projects in the Smokies will help attract even more visitors, bring more good jobs to East Tennessee and ensure future generations can enjoy the outdoors like we have.”
President Trump included the proposal to help address the National Park Service maintenance backlog in his infrastructure plan and the Department of the Interior’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talked about the importance of addressing the maintenance backlog when he visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the senator in August to mark the 101st anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.