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Time to make our national parks great again

America’s national parks are without equal. The National Park Service and its system comprise more than 84 million acres of parks and historical sites that attract 330 million visitors annually. Eight of these National Parks are in Ohio, ranging from the nearly 33,000 acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the William Howard Taft birthplace, which is less than two acres. They are all treasures to be preserved. As the economy begins to reopen, the parks will be welcoming people back this summer.

The problem is that when people head back out to the parks, they might find things are a little run-down, whether it’s crumbling bridges, leaking visitor centers, or closed trails. Why has this happened? It’s because while every year Congress has provided funding for the day-to-day activities of the parks, we haven’t provided enough money to keep up with all of the maintenance needs. Over time we’ve allowed these maintenance projects to build up, meaning that many buildings, infrastructure, roads, bridges, water systems are deteriorating to the point that a lot of them are completely unusable. It’s a widespread problem of deferred maintenance that, over the decades, has gradually grown to become a huge backlog of more than $12 billion at our national park sites.

The good news is that Congress has finally acted to address this problem. The Senate just passed my bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act which I introduced with U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Angus King (I-Maine) to help rebuild our parks infrastructure and reduce the backlog of long-delayed maintenance projects in our National Park System. After it’s passed by the House, the president has committed to signing it into law.

This legislation will help Ohio across our eight national park sites. In Northeast Ohio, we have the Cuyahoga Valley National Park — the 13th most-visited national park in the country. It’s a great park, but it needs more than $50 million in repairs against a yearly budget of only $11 million. In my hometown of Cincinnati, the childhood home of President William Howard Taft needs more than $2 million in repairs. At the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, there are about $3.5 million in unmet maintenance needs, including repairs to the exterior of the visitor center. And at the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on the shores of Lake Erie, which honors a pivotal battle in the War of 1812, more than $48 million in repairs are needed to a repair a critical seawall and fill in a growing number of sinkholes. All of these parks will receive funding to address their most critical repair needs thanks to the Restore Our Parks Act.

What’s more, Restore Our Parks actually supports jobs at a time when people are anxious to get back to work. In fact, last week the National Park Service released a new study that found that the Restore Our Parks Act will support an average of 40,300 direct jobs and an additional 59,800 jobs, for a total of 100,100 direct and indirect jobs over the next five years to go towards addressing these deferred maintenance problems at our parks.

What’s even better about this legislation is that taxpayers aren’t the ones footing the bill for these repairs. Instead, our bill creates what is called the Legacy Restoration Fund funded by un-obligated on and offshore energy revenue from federal lands. It won’t fund every needed repair, but it’s enough to tackle the high-priority projects that our parks can’t do without.

So this legislation is a win-win-win, especially right now. It helps us restore our parks and public lands, our greatest national treasures, so that they can be enjoyed by future generations. It puts people back to work at a time when we need to get folks back into jobs as we get our economy going again. And it does so without costing taxpayers money.

Thanks to the Restore Our Parks Act, we will all soon be able to see the splendor of our national parks as they were meant to be enjoyed — fully repaired and operational. As the weather warms and we all safely head out into the outdoors, I hope you take advantage of the natural and historic beauty of Ohio.

Portman is the junior senator from Ohio.

Tags Angus King Lamar Alexander Mark Warner

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