You are here

UPDATED: Congress Trying To Pass National Park Service Centennial Act


Editor's note: This updates with House passage of the bill, Senate action yet to come, reaction from National Park Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, Western Slope No-Fee Coalition.

The House of Representatives moved quickly Tuesday to pass legislation designed to provide the National Park Service with badly needed funds to help the agency chip away at a staggering $12 billion maintenance backlog. However, without concurrence by the Senate by week's end, the measure could die.

As passed by the House, the National Park Service Centennial Act would increase the price of a lifetime pass for senior citizens 62 and older to $80 from its current $10 lifetime fee. Seniors who don't want to pay the $80 could purchase an annual pass for $20.

Park Service staff estimate that the increase in the cost of a senior pass would generate $20 million a year.

The legislation, drafted by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, had bipartisan support in the House. It would deposit up to $10 million generated from all Park Service sales of America The Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes into a Second Century Endowment for the National Park Service to be managed by the National Park Foundation. Any revenues above $10 million would be deposited in a Centennial Challenge fund for projects in the parks. However, they would need to be matched by private dollars before they could be spent as the legislation is written.

A companion measure in the Senate differs slightly. It would require that any money deposited into the Second Century Endowment fund have a match of private dollars before it could be released to the Park Service.

The House version also calls for an annual appropriation of $5 million to the National Park Foundation for each of the 2017-2023 fiscal years for use as matching funds for contributions made to the foundation, while the Senate draft reportedly would provide $15 million.

Missing from the House bill was a request from Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, to amend the bill with a requirement that Congress appropriate an additional $300 million per year for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019 to help the Park Service address its maintenance backlog, estimated at $12 billion.

The House measure was applauded by the National Parks Conservation Association as a "victory" for national parks, but officials at the advocacy group acknowledged greater funding must be found to make substantial inroads on the maintenance backlog.

"Would we have liked another source of funding? Sure," said Emily Douce, NPCA's associate director, budget and appropriations, during a phone call. "But in this Congress? And is the Congress going to get any better next session? No. But we've always been supportive of looking at increasing that senior pass. It's been set at $10 for the rest of their lives. And most people that we've spoken to are OK with that increase in the senior pass."

But Ms. Douce acknowledged that the increase in that pass will not be enough to greatly whittle away at the Park Service's backlog, even with matching funds.

"It's certainly not the silver bullet, and we are working with partners to look at the next Congress and beyond to figure out a solution on addressing that backlog. And we'll always continue to push for additional appropriated annual dollars for the national parks, in operations and construction. It's certainly not a done deal, and we will hold those members accountable."

At the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, President Kitty Benzar was disappointed with the legislation.

"While there have been a multitude of bills introduced (and programs authorized) all of which were aimed at giving new groups free or reduced- cost access to the public lands - 4th Graders, military families, those with disabilities, volunteers - it is difficult to understand why Congress has taken this opportunity to reduce a long-standing benefit to seniors," she said. "It's a lump of coal for Christmas if you are a near-senior. Those who already are 62 or older should get their pass this week without delay, since their benefits are grandfathered- (and grandmothered-) in."

In his floor speech to promote passage of the bill, Rep. Bishop said, "(The Park Service has] some significant problems, namely a $12 billion backlog in their maintenance issues. It is fun to create a new national park; it is not sexy to talk about fixing a sewer system. So that requires us to be a little bit more creative than we have been in the past and to provide new tools so the Park Service can meet this challenge that they have.”

Also pleased with the bill was Will Shafroth, president and chief executive officer of the National Park Foundation.

"This important legislation will provide greater funding for our national parks and enhance our organization's ability to further leverage philanthropic support for these incredible places in their second century. We thank House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva for their leadership to ensure passage of H.R. 4680," said Mr. Shafroth.

To demonstrate the power of matching dollars called for in the legislation, NPCA staff pointed to the following examples of past projects accomplishded through the Centennial Challenge program:

  • Yosemite National Park (California): Improved hydrology related to roads and trails to benefit the giant sequoias; reconfigured the Mariposa Grove Road near the south entrance to enhance safety and traffic flow; added over 20 new accessible parking spaces; provided two miles of new pedestrian trails; and restored nearly four acres of giant sequoias and wetland habitat. Total cost: $5.1 million; partner (The Yosemite Conservancy) match: 80 percent.
  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho): Helped restore and enhance the original and only year-round entrance to the world’s first national park by improving walkways, reducing traffic congestion and updating signage. Total cost: $2 million; partner (Yellowstone Park Foundation) match: 75 percent.
  • Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts): Completed critically-needed restoration of wooden cupola section of the Old State House, replaced outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, and provided handicap accessibility to the building. Total cost: $1.4 million; partner (Bostonian Society) match: 50 percent.


Shoot... got my hopes up that the bill would remove all roads from National Parks and let them return back to nature, while declaring all lands officially designated wilderness areas.  But alas, just about keeping the mo' money machine a churnin' with just a few measures sprinkled in to protect some resources. Dang.

They've been elected and re-elected.  Time for them to go back to sleep until they need to find some more donors to purchase their services.

I'm for it. While it's not quite "half a loaf," Better to have a slice of bread than no loaf of bread at all. It's a first step that will add value. John Muir said, "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread. Places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."

I'm with the NPCA. In THIS or the upcoming Congress?!? I'll take this bone, in recognition that even a broken watch is right twice a day.

Having retired National Park Service after 31 years I have mixed feelings.

Public lands are for everyone, not just the abled body, maintaing access for ALL is what the National Park Service strives for. 

I have always thought that "public lands" should be just that free to the public, however the costs to keep these lands safe and maintained brings me back to reality. It costs to maintain these lands for the public, Law Enforcement, Fire Suppression, Search and Rescue, clean toilets, these all take people doing a job. In the West many of the NPS units are in remote areas, so living quarters are needed to get people to want to work there. All at a cost. That money needs to come from somewhere. 

I have heard it said that people don't value things that are free, and I have seem why this is said. Asking for fee to enter the NPS Units is a way to value that land. Making that fee assessable to all this the challange.

I have purchased my America The Beautiful Senior Pass for $10 and thought it to be one hell of a bargain. Having purchased an annual pass at $80 per year made this the great deal that it is. With that said, I would have purchased the Senior Pass even if it were priced at $80 as that is a lifetime fee worth the value.

So to sum this up, Supporting your National Parks arn't just in visiting them, but funding them.

Keep them aroung for your children, their children and their children.  


Excellent comment, Huffy.  Now stand by to be lambasted because you admitted you are retired NPS so you have axes to grind and don't really understand the "real" picture -- whatever that happens to be at the moment.

Note what Huffy said--"Law Enforcement, Fire Suppression, Search and Rescue, clean toilets, these all take people doing a job." Uh, huh. And not one of those jobs said PRESERVATION.

In Switzerland, I am told, YOU pay to be rescued. I do know that every public toilet is pay as you go. Across Switerland, Germany, and Austria, Christine and I  paid an attendant, after which she admitted us to a stall.

Law enforcement? The majority of it should not be needed if the roads did the policing first. They used to, then came the SUVs and mobile homes--and tour buses on "a schedule."

There is your "backlog." All of that could be privatized without costing the public a dime. The rangers would again do what rangers did--range in the interest of PRESERVATION and meet the public.

But if you say that, someone accuses you of recomending Disneyland. And so the backlog grows. Why not pay to use a public toilet instead of beg men "to put the seat down?" No, Christine, beg men to put it up. The problem isn't what you think.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, "the pride of the Northwest," men pee all over the seat. After all, it's free! And yes, looks virtually like a third-world dump. In Frankfurt, Munich, and Zurich, the floors are spic and span. Why ? If you want to pee, you pay. And the floors are kept clean and sanitary.

We learn nothing when we travel, do we? Europe is astonished when they come here. Free toilets? National parks for twenty bucks? Mobile homes the size of a house driving to and fro? Free rescues for every idiot clinging to the rocks? And you wonder why your parks are broke?

Talk to them. They are amazed--and willing to pay much more. It's we who are unwiling to pay, and allow anarchy in our public spaces. This problem is so easily solved it hardly begs for the brain matter. Charge what it costs and be done with it. But no, someone will complain.

On the contrary Lee Dalton, I think Huffy understands the situation very well. Huffy worked in the national parks with the National Park Service for 31 years and saw first hand how things operate. It was only a short time ago that the National Park Service was authorized to keep some of the entrance fee money they collect, where before that money went back to the government general treasury fund. 80% of fee dollars collected at parks that charge an entrance fee stay in that park.  I'm not a senior, but I think most seniors who do travel will be able to shell out $80 for a lifetime pass.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide