National parks advocates call for extra funding to help parks through pandemic

Clouds hang over Zion National Park, Utah, March 20, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — National parks in Utah and across the nation could get a helping hand to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic if a bill granting permanent funding becomes part of a new stimulus package.

Bryce Canyon National Park, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Currently, Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks are closed as a means to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Capitol Reef National Park announced its closure last week. Bryce Canyon, Zion and other parks closed last month.

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks is calling for “for long-term solutions needed to protect America’s national parks, and help the gateway communities around them survive the economic devastation caused by the pandemic,” according to a press release issued Friday.

In order to help keep the national parks funded now and permanently, the coalition is asking Congress to include funding for the Great American Outdoors Act as a part of the next stimulus package.

“This Act would not only address the backlog of deferred maintenance in our parks, but provide full, permanent funding for (Land and Water Conservation Fund),” the coalition states in the news release. “This funding is needed to create more access points on existing public lands, and build more close-to-home parks and trails across the country.”

The Great American Outdoors Act, sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, has a measure of bipartisan support and the support of President Donald Trump.

Of the bill’s 58 cosponsors in the Senate, neither Sens. Mike Lee or Mitt Romney of Utah are listed.

Hikers gather near the viewpoint of Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Andy Arvig, St. George News

Presently, the country’s national parks are experiencing an ongoing backlog of delayed maintenance projects that’s estimated to be over $12 billion.

The bill was poised to be brought before the Senate early last month but was pushed back as the nation turned to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the bill’s summary, it would supply $1.9 billion annually to the deferred maintenance issue. Funding would be supplied through the development of oil, gas, coal or alternative or renewable energy on federal lands and waters.

The funding would be administered through the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Helping the national parks will also aid the local economies that rely on them, the coalition stated in its release.

Studies have shown that America’s outdoor recreation economy supports over 7.6 million jobs, contributes over $887 billion in annual economic output, and serves as the lifeblood for countless communities across the country,” the coalition said. “Every dollar spent on LWCF returns $4 in economic value from natural resource goods and services alone – over and above the economic benefit of the outdoor recreation economy and tourism.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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