WASHINGTON — Congress has failed the nation's park system by squandering resources on sites that were never worthy of federal recognition and deferring maintenance at crown jewels like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, according to a report released Tuesday by Sen. Tom Coburn.
The backlog of maintenance has grown to $11.5 billion, but lawmakers continue to propose new parks — including one on the moon — or expand existing ones, Coburn said. According to the report, the backlog has more than doubled since 2001 and is on pace to grow by $250 million each year.
The backlog has mounted to nearly $3 billion at the nation's 10 most-visited parks. At the Grand Canyon National Park, rangers had to shut down a popular viewing spot because the stairs leading to it were unsafe, and a corroded water line forces the use of creek water for flushing toilets, the report says.
“Politicians would rather take credit for creating a new park in their community than caring for the parks that already exist,” Coburn, R-Muskogee, says in the report. “There is, after all, no ribbon-cutting ceremony for taking out the trash, fixing a broken railing or filling a pothole.”
The National Park Service is responsible for 401 park units covering more than 84 million acres in all 50 states and four U.S. territories; 14 of the units cost more than $100 per visitor to operate, Coburn says.
The 200-page report documents the political dealings that led to the establishment of some parks, and tells the history of how a single California lawmaker “oversaw the creation of 30 new national park units, eight new national trails, and eight wild and scenic river designations.”
“In total, one lawmaker placed nearly 10 percent of the entire landmass of the United States under the ownership and control of the federal government,” the report says.
Coburn's report notes that the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum started out as a unit of the National Park Service but has thrived since being decommissioned in 2004. Even when some parks have national significance, like the bombing memorial, the federal government isn't necessarily the proper manager, the report says.