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National Parks are crumbling with $11.9 billion maintenance backlog, but there's a plan to rescue th
Collapsing roofs, decaying trails and bursting water ways are all maintenance problems that face the National Parks. While Congress is more interested in creating new parks than fixing the old ones, PERC has proposed another way to save the parks. - photo by Sam Turner
From Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia with its Liberty Bell, to Yosemite National Park in California with its ancient sequoias, Americans across the country have enjoyed the National Parks for their history, heritage and natural beauty.

But the crack in the Liberty Bell may soon be more than just a source of national mythos. It's a parallel to the deteriorating state of repair of the National Parks at large.

The National Parks System have reached an $11.9 billion backlog in maintenance projects in parks across the country, according to the Property and Environment Research Center.

The NPS wants to focus on completing these maintenance projects, but they have been unable to get the necessary funding from Congress, which is more interested in acquiring new land and opening new parks than maintaining the ones it already has.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C., for example, is literally falling apart.

If you look up you can see the portion of the ceiling of the portico has fallen, Acting Deputy Superintendent for the National Mall & Memorial Parks Sean Kenneally told Marketplace. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The Jefferson Memorial needs a new roof, as does the Lincoln Memorial, but without the money for repairs, pieces of plywood and makeshift fences mar the face of some of the country's most reverenced historical sites, reports Marketplace.

According to PERC, the parks are also plagued with ruinous visitors centers, crumbling roads and trails, and even bursting pipes and waterways.

In Yosemite, there was even a leaky waterway that was releasing raw sewage, destroying the natural assets that the NPS exists to protect.

The consensus of NPS and PERC is that something has must be done to save the parks, and Congress can't (or won't?) do much about it.

That's why PERC has released a proposal on how to fix the maintenance problems called "Breaking the Backlog: 7 ideas to address the National Park deferred maintenance problem."

Here are the seven ways that PERC hopes to kickstart the maintenance projects and restore the beauty and safety of the National Parks.

Stop acquiring more land for the park system and start prioritizing the care and maintenance of existing lands

The number of National Parks has increased each year since 2009, and so has the backlog of deferred maintenance projects.

PERC says this is partly due to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which makes major contributions to the NPS which can onlybe used to acquire more land.

PERC suggests reforming the LWCF to allow funds to be spent on deferred maintenance projects.

Dispose of unnecessary federal lands and use revenues to address the backlog

The Federal Government owns 640 million acres of land in the U.S., including 62 percent of Idaho and 65 percent of Utah.

But a lot of this land is not even being used and has been termed suitable for disposal, says PERC.

PERC suggests selling some of these small, scattered pieces of land to fund the maintenance projects.

Continue to allow park managers to charge recreation fees and retain the revenues for maintenance and other critical projects

The current Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act allows the NPS to collect fees for park use, with 80 percent of the proceeds staying in the park where it was collected and the rest going to the NPS for discretionary use.

But the FLREA is set to expire in 2017. PERC urges legislators to permanently reauthorize the FLREA.

Allow park managers to set their fee programs without having to obtain approval from Congress

No one knows a park and its needs better than its manager. Yet as it stands, Congress often has to give approval for park managers to change or increase fee programs.

PERC hopes that allowing park managers to create their fee programs will address the parks' individual needs and help curb the maintenance backlog.

Harness public-private partnerships for infrastructure needs

Rather than deferring all projects to the public sector, PERC says partnerships with private companies can be a lot less expensive.

By working with private contractors, especially on projects such as roads and transportation, which make up half of the deferred maintenance projects could be completed faster and more cost efficiently.

Outsource routine park operations to the private sector while maintaining public ownership and oversight

PERC thinks private management and maintenance of the parks could generate profits for interested entrepreneurs and free up cash for NPS to invest in other projects.

Private operators would essentially lease the land, taking charge of all maintenance and operations fees, funded solely by park user fees, which would be given certain parameters by NPS.

Create a national park franchising system for new additions to the National Park System

The NPS will inevitably continue to grow, but rather than spreading the budget even thinner, PERC recommends introducing a franchising system so private business owners can own and operate new parks within certain NPS guidelines.

"As the National Park Service moves into its second century, its time to think outside the box," PERC writes in their proposal.

PERC claims that franchising is a low-cost option for expanding the NPS, preserve important lands and redistribute the financial burden of the maintenance backlog.
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