A June 29 Toledo Blade editorial titled “Preserve the Parks,” argued that my legislation to help our national parks would be a good investment for our public lands and our economy. They couldn’t be more right. The legislation will help repair and preserve for future generations the eight national parks here in Ohio and will help all of the spectacular national parks around the country.
Many know that for a long time the parks have suffered from a lack of funding for upkeep and repairs to things like trails, parking lots, visitors centers, and other important facilities, creating an ever-growing backlog of long-delayed maintenance projects that now have a cost of $12 billion.
I have seen this firsthand at places like the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-In-Bay. It’s an incredible site that commemorates Adm. Oliver Hazard Perry, the War of 1812, and all its veterans, and the enduring relationship between Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
But the seawall that protects the memorial is crumbling as time passes and the Lake Erie water level rises. With this comes sinkholes and other hazards that threaten the monument. In all, the monument needs about $48 million worth of repairs against a budget that is a fraction of that amount.
I still believe that our parks must be preserved for future generations. That’s why, in my time in public office, I’ve worked to fix these kinds of problems and ensure our national parks get the treatment they deserve.
In 2007, as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, I initiated the Centennial Challenge for the parks, a public-private partnership to leverage federal dollars with private investment to repair our parks ahead of the 100-year anniversary of our park system.
As a member of the Senate, my efforts continued. In 2016, we passed my National Park Service Centennial Act, which codified the Centennial Challenge program to provide more funding to our parks through public-private partnerships.
To date, the Centennial Challenge program has provided $128.5 million in federal dollars with an additional $167 million in nonfederal partner investments for our parks. But there was still more to do.
That’s why, more than three years ago, I introduced the first version of what later became the bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act, which would use revenue the federal government receives through offshore and onshore energy development to establish a parks restoration fund. This fund, which would run for five years, would help us address the most pressing repairs at our parks and public lands so that the American people can continue to enjoy them for decades to come.
Last month, I’m pleased to say that we finally reached a breakthrough in this important work. The Senate voted to pass the Restore Our Parks Act by an overwhelming bipartisan margin. Once this important bill passes the House and is signed into law by President Trump, who has voiced his support for the measure, the Perry Memorial will finally be able to get the repairs it needs to stand the test of time.
This bill is not just important for our parks but our economy, too. The National Park Service estimates it will support more than 100,000 jobs over the next five years as these repair needs are addressed. It’s a good long-term investment, too — as of 2019, visitor spending in communities near our national parks resulted in a $41.7 billion benefit to the nation’s economy and supported 340,500 jobs.
I’m proud that the Senate came together as Republicans and Democrats to support this important initiative. These repairs were a debt unpaid, and we are finally addressing them at no cost to taxpayers.
Our parks have stood tall for more than a century as the embodiment of American history and our commitment to stewardship of our magnificent lands.
Thanks to the Restore Our Parks Act, we will be able to ensure that they stand for centuries more, as well.
Rob Portman is the Republican Senator from Ohio.