Mass. national parks desperately need new funding

Bill would divert oil, gas royalties to support repairs

EVERY YEAR, millions of visitors flock to Massachusetts’ 15 national park and historic sites for fun and recreation. They leave with a better understanding of our nation’s past and the places that define our cultural heritage.  While our national parks are more popular than ever, they face an extraordinary challenge: $11.3 billion in long-deferred infrastructure repairs, and the threat of further budget cuts.

Massachusetts alone has a maintenance deficit of $230 million, with many of the needed repairs at treasured places grounded in history, such as Lowell National Historic Park, Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park.

Park staffs do an amazing job protecting and interpreting our parks, but their good work is challenged by crumbling roads, inaccessible walkways, and outdated visitor centers – diminishing our own experiences at these places.

The Massachusetts parks with the greatest needs are Boston National Historic Park ($102.2 million) and Cape Cod National Seashore ($47.8 million). Many of the Commonwealth’s historical sites that are vital to telling the story of early America are in need of greater federal maintenance funding – including George Washington’s Headquarters, Minuteman National Historical Park, and Boston National Historical Park.

Our national parks are so burdened because Congress has funded them at minimal levels for decades. The entire National Park Service budget makes up just one-fourteenth of 1 percent of the federal budget, and the Park Service receives less than 60 cents out of every dollar it needs to keep the backlog from growing, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.  So our parks are losing ground.

The president’s proposed budget for the agency – the largest cut to the National Park Service since World War II – includes even deeper cuts to repairs in parks at a time when Americans are using them more.

There’s hope, but it requires public support.  Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act, which aims to tackle the problem. The act allocates repair funds to the Park Service from revenues the federal government receives for oil and natural gas royalties. This proposal, if enacted, would provide urgently needed maintenance for our parks and historic sites with a dedicated 30-year funding stream.

National parks are not just important pieces of our heritage – they are major economic engines for our communities.

In Massachusetts, more than 10 million people visit national park sites every year, adding over a half billion dollars to the state’s economy. In 2016, the Boston National Historical Park, which includes many sites along Boston’s Freedom Trail, alone attracted 2.6 million visitors to our city. These park visitors spent an estimated $151.7 million at local businesses, which in turn supported 2,200 local jobs. Investments in our national parks stimulate surrounding communities that rely on park visitors for their economies. The National Park Service Legacy Act would expand economic opportunity when we need it most.

Meet the Author

Greg Galer

Executive director, Boston Preservation Alliance
Meet the Author

James Igoe

President, Preservation Massachusetts
Meet the Author

Kathy Kottaridis

Executive director, Historic Boston Incorporated
Congress should seize this momentum with Republican and Democrat agreement to adopt the National Park Service Legacy Act, and we should all encourage and support them.  National parks embody our American ideals and are among the most cherished and appreciated assets of our nation. They need our support now to secure a worthy legacy for the benefit of future generations.

Greg Galer is the executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, James Igoe is the president of Preservation Massachusetts, and Kathy Kottaridis is the executive eirector of Historic Boston Incorporated.