These days, it’s rare to find bipartisan leadership out of our nation’s capital. Thankfully, Senator Lamar Alexander still recognizes the importance of working with members on both sides of the political aisle to protect our economy, our history, and our heritage. His work to restore our national parks exemplifies his leadership.
Our national parks are in crisis. Trails, roads and bridges that visitors use are in disrepair. The historic structures, memorials and monuments – where young scholars learn the American story – need work, some of them closed to the public. Restrooms and visitor centers that visitors rely on have repairs that have been repeatedly put off.
All told, national parks face an $11.6 billion backlog in needed repairs. It is bad enough for visitors, but if their numbers start to dwindle, local businesses like mine could bear the brunt.
Four Bridges Outfitters is a consignment shop in Chattanooga that sells used outdoor gear. Over five years, we have helped numerous people gear up to go camping and backpacking in natural areas around Chattanooga and beyond. Our business is fueled the outdoors, so we care deeply about the preservation and conditions of parks.
Because businesses in Tennessee rely on national parks, it’s important to note that Senator Alexander recently teamed up with Senators. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Angus King (I-Maine) to introduce the Restore Our Parks Act. This bill, endorsed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, would significantly cut the backlog in delayed repairs.
It would establish a dedicated fund, using royalties from federal onshore, offshore and renewable energy revenues. The fund could receive up to $1.3 billion a year for five years.
One of Tennessee’s 12 national parks sites is right in our backyard. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park commemorates the history and heritage of one of the most critical battles in the Civil War. Unfortunately, Chickamauga has nearly $23 million in needed infrastructure repairs, according to NPS.
National parks generated $35 billion in economic activity in 2017. In Tennessee, 9.3 million visitors to national parks spent an estimated $638 million in nearby communities. This helped support 9,470 jobs for Tennesseans for a grand total of $892 million in economic output.
If the repairs in our national parks were fully funded, it could create or support more than 2,500 jobs for the state, according to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts analysis. Road repairers, landscape designers, restaurant workers and more would be hired.
Senator Alexander, who was himself born in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, recognizes the importance of investing in these special places. I thank him for his efforts on behalf of national parks. His hard work and bipartisan leadership will only add to his growing legacy.
Co-founder and manager of Four Bridges Outfitters