Overdue projects at national parks in the spotlight on Capitol Hill

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- This National Park Week, there’s a renewed focus on maintaining the country’s precious lands. Bipartisan lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would begin confronting $12 billions in overdue maintenance projects. Washington Correspondent Alana Austin reports on the debate over the best way to handle these urgent needs.

National parks need billions of dollars across the nation to confront delayed maintenance project. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia attracts many tourists and visitors from around the world. (Source: WHSV)

“This is one of those areas where it should be a no-brainer,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-VA).

Warner wants to begin tackling billions of dollars in overdue maintenance at national parks. That includes addressing delayed repairs to roads, bridges, trails and rest stops.

“Every year that we kick the can on that item…parks become less usable and the long-term costs continue to go up,” explained Warner.

Warner says Virginia’s tourism industry counts on maintaining historical sites and treasured places like the Shenandoah National Forest.

“It’s also making sure that we preserve our history and our legacy for our kids and our grandkids,” said Warner.

Warner is backing the ‘Restore Our Parks Act’. The bipartisan bill would draw largely on existing funds to reduce at least half of the backlogged maintenance projects. The bill fell short late last year, but Republican Senator Lamar Alexander sees promise this time around.

“It has a very good chance at passing this year,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

But critics say this bill is targeting the wrong problem. Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute – a libertarian think tank – says some parks could consider raising admission fees to help offset maintenance costs. Edwards also suggests less prominent parks be run by state and private groups.

“The National parks service has gotten too large and sprawling,” said Edwards.

Edwards says the federal government over-extended itself by owning more than a quarter of the land in the U.S.

“I think that the proper approach is to downsize,” said Edwards.

The bill is under review by the Energy and Natural Resources committee.

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