Guest opinion: Parks legislation is a boon for community, economy

  • Wednesday, February 12, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

Whether I’m backpacking among the alpine country of Hurricane Ridge or the rugged coastline, I can gaze across expansive vistas of Olympic National Park. Here I can reflect on what it means to take the long view — to consider what’s valuable and what’s worth protecting for future generations. Nature has a way of bringing such important lessons to life in vivid color.

That message is particularly poignant right now, especially as we consider the fate of national parks and to what lengths we’re willing to go to protect them. These incredible places, icons of history and beauty for decades, are in trouble: After years of inconsistent funding and increased visitation, many have fallen into serious states of disrepair.

Untended trails, outdated wastewater and electrical systems, dilapidated buildings and other run-down infrastructure have made many parks unwelcoming and, in some cases, even unsafe.

Across the country, national parks face a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog. Here in Washington state, parks including North Cascades, Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park need $427 million in essential repairs.

For years, Congress has considered legislation that would provide stable funding to draw down the maintenance backlog — now all it needs to do is pass the Restore Our Parks Act (S. 500) and the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 1225).

This bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), would allocate up to $6.5 billion over five years to fund critical park maintenance projects.

Consider the payoffs: In 2018, park visitors spent an estimated $20.2 billion in nearby communities and pumped more than $40 billion into the national economy. That spending sustained 329,000 jobs.

This means a lot to me as a hotel and restaurant owner here on the Olympic Peninsula and at should to you too. If we revitalize and maintain Olympic National Park’s infrastructure, we revitalize our local economies — the places where we live, work, and play.

It’s no wonder then, that 82 percent of the U.S. public and more than 3,000 groups representing diverse interests support legislation to protect national parks. Congress appears to be taking a cue from their constituents; they don’t agree on much these days, but S. 500 is now co-sponsored by half of the Senate and H.R. 1225 is backed by more than three-quarters of the House.

Such overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support for any issue is rare. Congress should seize the opportunity to pass these bills — and the sooner, the better. The longer it waits, the worse and more expensive the list of repairs becomes.

I respectfully ask you to join with me to maintain and restore, preserve and protect, Olympic National Park for our children, and our children’s children.

If Congress can muster the will to act — to take the long view and finally pass this much needed legislation to protect our national parks — there’s hope.

Bret Wirta is owner of The Holiday Inn Express in Sequim.

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