WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Long overdue maintenance projects could be moving forward soon in Alaska.
The state’s precious resources - and thriving tourism industry - rely on federal dollars to keep the parks safe for visitors, while maintaining the quality of amenities that contribute to the overall experience.
The breath-taking beauty of Alaska’s national parks attracts millions of visitors each year and nearly 18,000 jobs. But keeping up the roads, trails and visitors centers - all critical to safety - costs a lot.
“It’s a never-ending task," explains Pete Christian, public affairs officer for the Alaska region of the National Park Service.
Christian, says right now, Alaska’s biggest funding gap is at Denali. The home of North America’s highest peak needs about $55 million dollars for postponed repairs.
“The more you defer maintenance, just the bigger the backlog gets," said Christian.
The mountainous terrain means the access road through Denali faces constant wear and tear. Across Alaska’s sprawling parks system, about $109 million dollars is needed for a face-lift - that means renovations to campgrounds, air strips and trails.
Alaska is just one of many states with delayed maintenance projects on national park lands. In total - nationwide - there’s about $11 billion dollars in overdue renovations. That’s why a bill in Congress would pool existing federal dollars for maintenance on federal park lands this year.
“Our national parks are part of our heritage," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).
Warner is part of a bi-partisan group, with Republican Senator Dan Sullivan (AK), hoping to make progress on this backlog. The plan would put about six billion dollars toward the most pressing infrastructure needs over the next five years.
“We owe it to our kids and our grandkids to preserve that part of our history and our natural resources," said Warner.
But economist Chris Edwards at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute opposes the bill saying quote, “...the problem has been caused by Congress adding too many parks and monuments to the system, which has stretched funding too thin...”
Edwards suggests some lands be turned over to state and local governments, or non-profits.
The bill just saw a committee hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
It still needs a vote in the U.S. Senate, but the legislation has support from the Trump administration.