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NPS's Backlog, Updated


    Did you ever wonder how many buildings the Park Service owns? There are 15,466, or nearly 20,000 when you toss in employee housing.
    Or, did you ever wonder how many campgrounds there are in the park system? That number would be 1,080.
    How 'bout picnic areas? At last count, 491, with 4,853 actual picnic sites.
    Number of hiking trails? 5,245, but don't ask me the total mileage involved.
    Sewer systems? 1,650, a nightmare (or perhaps job security) for Rotor-Rooter.
    And did you ever wonder about the cost to bring all of these "assets," as well as some others, such as roads, water systems, and archaeological sites, up to reasonable snuff?
    That, my friends, would be right around $8 billion, a very hefty figure that represents the maintenance backlog across the park system.

    This bottom-line figure was trotted out last week during a House subcommittee hearing that focused on the national parks. It represents the culmination of the creation of the Park Service's "Asset Management Program," a management tool that entailed creation of a "Facility Condition Index" that ranks every single asset in a mission to determine what it would cost to bring all of the Park Service's assets up to relative snuff, condition-wise.
    A one-page summary presented to the congressfolk says that of the 15,466 buildings, there is $1.3 billion worth of deferred maintenance waiting to be hammered, nailed, and painted. Of the campgrounds, it would take but $60 million to spruce them up to acceptable condition.
    The trails, though, well, it would take an incredible $469 MILLION to wipe out the long overdue trails maintenance, and I'm guessing that figure was calculated before Mount Rainier, Glacier and Olympic endured that little rain storm back in November.
    Now, the biggest chunk of deferred maintenance is tied up in roads. The Park Service counts 7,115 roads (both paved and unpaved) in its system, and says it would take $4.3 billion to bring them up to decent condition.
    Back in January 2006 I talked with Bruce Shaeffer, the Park Service's long-serving comptroller, about the agency's maintenance backlog. At the time, he guessed it was somewhere between $4.5 billion and $9 billion. Unfortunately, as this latest report spells out, the actual number is much closer to $9 billion than $4.5 billion.
    Which makes me wonder just a little why the agency is so focused on spending $3 billion through the highly touted National Park Centennial Initiative to build new stuff that it won't be able to maintain?


"Which makes me wonder just a little why the agency is so focused on spending $3 billion through the highly touted National Park Centennial Initiative to build new stuff that it won't be able to maintain?" -- Unfortunately, its always easier (not necessarily 'easy') to get funding for construction rather than maintenance. If I want to build new trails, I can find grant money for that in a minute. If I want to maintain existing trails, I can find the money but have to jump through more hoops. If I want to repair trailhead facilities like parking areas or put a new water system in a campground, there isn't a dime to spare. People always like to be able to look at something fun to be able to say "that's where our money went". Fixing an SST isn't exactly what most people have in mind. I'm not generally on the anti-privatization bandwagon, but this way they can build all kinds of new facilites and then five years later they won't have the money to maintain them anymore. They'll have no choice (not that it will break their hearts) but to farm it out to a concessionaire or permittee to fix, maintain, use, and charge money for - but I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

How 'bout letting some of those $4.3 billion roads turn into very nice hiking trails or 4x4 trails at the price of: FREE! :)

That's great in theory Ranger, but the problem is that most of those roads were pushed in wherever the logging/mining/inholding interest wanted them. That was usually the quickest route, not the most sustainable. Many have culverts which are going to blow (if they haven't already), dumping large amounts of sediment into what could be pristine creeks, streams, and rivers and damaging water quality and riparian habitat. We really need to get in there and obliterate those old roads or at least rehab the major drainage structures. It might take a century, but if we can at least mitigate the major damage areas, nature will slowly but surely take care of the rest. Of course, thats not going to happen, because if we don't have the money to maintain them we certainly won't have it to obliterate them.

They do let some of the roads become hiking trails, when they can't afford to keep them open as roads. I would like to see more investment in the National Parks (which I will admit is one of the few area I think spending should be increased). But if congress is not going to do that I think the director should try to raise more donations. One area more spending is needed is on enforcing rules. So many visitors are destroying the natural environment that those in the future are losing out.

One thing I would do (theoretically - I never would be allowed to) is require people to read the rules and put up a bond. Then if they go marching off the trail onto fragile ground (there are plenty of locations where tramping around off the trail is a serious problem) the $1,000 they put up as bond is forfeited (and there would be a graduating scale, as the person failed to follow the rules additional times the fines would increase). With the income from those that fail to do what they promise people could be hired to enforce the rules. I know people wouldn't love being paid to do be enforcers but something has to be done, to preserve the parks. More funds could also allow the construction of more trails... that allow people to enjoy the parks without ruining fragile landscapes.

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