The historic Platform Bridge at the Point Reyes National Seashore isn’t safe. Built in 1927, over the decades it’s carried both people and automotive traffic, but today it’s a visible and troubling sign of how far America has fallen in protecting its investment in national parks.
The National Park Service’s backlog of deferred maintenance and repairs is $11.6 billion, including $1.8 billion in California. The Platform Bridge alone needs $1.6 million. The neglect is all the more disturbing in light of a new report showing what a powerful economic engine the park system is.
In 2017, visitors to America’s national parks spent $18.2 billion, supporting 306,000 jobs and generating $35.8 billion for communities around the parks, according to economists for the Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. California’s parks led the country in economic contributions, drawing $1.9 billion in visitor spending, supporting 25,500 jobs and pouring $2.7 billion into the state’s economy.
In our region, the economic impact is dramatic. Consider the Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 15 million visitors spent $365 million, the eighth most in the nation, supporting 4,090 jobs and $419 million in total economic output. Point Reyes National Seashore’s 2.5 million visitors spent $106 million, supporting 1,240 jobs and $132 million in economic output.
Nearby, the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Park, one of the lesser-known national park units, drew 60,900 visitors, who spent $3.5 million.
Then there’s Yosemite National Park, which drew 4.3 million visitors, who spent $452 million, the seventh highest in the nation. Yosemite supported 6,670 jobs and $589 million in economic output.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke says the report “illustrates the incredible economic value of our national parks” and the need to repair them. He and President Donald Trump support a controversial proposal to fund park repairs with revenue from energy produced on federal lands and waters. Critics worry the plan will lead to the destruction of natural resources, including opening coastal areas to drilling. An alternative plan would draw money for repairs from existing revenues from oil and natural gas royalties.
Nationwide, park service lands drew nearly 331 million visits last year, close to 2016’s record-setting total. Golden Gate was one of three National Park Service sites to record more than 10 million visits.
Those numbers are likely to hold this year, following the defeat of an unpopular plan to nearly triple entrance fees at 17 popular parks, including Yosemite. The higher fees would have put visits out of the financial reach of many families and made only a small dent in funding for repairs. Instead, fees will go up by $5 at all parks that charge visitors; Golden Gate and Point Reyes will remain free.
Deferred maintenance and repairs at California parks include $326 million at Golden Gate, the second highest in the state behind $583 million at Yosemite. The backlog at Point Reyes is close to $99 million; Rosie the Riveter park, established in 2000, already has a backlog of $25,000.
National parks have an intrinsic value that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. But they clearly have significant economic power, and Congress needs to do a better job ensuring they remain world-class destinations.
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