National Park Week Op-Ed

by Deb Yandala, Conservancy CEO

This week is National Park Week.  It’s a time when Americans celebrate the places that preserve our most important natural and historic resources.

Here in Northeast Ohio, there’s no better way to welcome a long-awaited spring than to get outdoors and enjoy the trails of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

It is one of our region’s greatest treasures.   People from around the country have discovered the beauty of the Cuyahoga River valley and found delight in its wildflowers, diversity of birds and wildlife and inspiring forests.   We are fortunate to have a national park in our backyard.

The park offers over 100 miles of hiking trails.  The Towpath Trail and the new mountain bike trail offer some of the best biking experiences in the region.  Concerts, educational programs, a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and a Saturday morning trip to the Countryside Conservancy’s Farmers Market are among the many adventures in our national park.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is also an important economic driver for the communities along its borders.  According to the National Park Service, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has more than 2.4 million annual visits and nearly $70 million is spent in the park’s gateway communities as a result.

The National Park Service does an amazing job keeping Cuyahoga Valley National Park pristine and accessible. However, federal resources to maintain the park are stretched thin. Congress has not yet provided dedicated funding specifically for upkeep and repairs at national parks.  Historic structures, bridges, and trails are in need of restoration and ongoing maintenance.

Across the country, the National Park Service estimates that more than 400 parks, military history sites and other historically significant assets will require more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance repairs, with nearly $103 million needed in Ohio alone. Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s estimated deferred maintenance need is over $45 million.

Fortunately, several members of our state’s congressional delegation have a solution. The National Park Service Legacy Act, co-authored by Sen. Portman and supported by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Reps. David Joyce, Marcy Kaptur, Steve Stivers and Mike Turner, addresses the national park maintenance problem in a fiscally responsible way. The legislation establishes a funding system that gradually provides the National Park Service the funds it needs for deferred maintenance. The Legacy Act enjoys broad bi-partisan support in both chambers of Congress. It has also increased awareness of the national park deferred maintenance backlog within Congress and the Trump Administration.

Crumbling roads, deteriorating historic buildings, impassable trails and outdated utility systems at national park sites across the nation will finally receive necessary repairs and improvements if Congress approves the legislation. This work will enhance the experiences of park visitors, maintain safety, and protect our nation’s most treasured natural and historic places.

The Legacy Act also promises to create jobs because it provides funds for repairs and construction. In fact, a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found the legislation would create or support about 110,169 new jobs across the country, with 774 of those jobs in Ohio. That means new construction, engineering and trade jobs for park gateway communities. It also means new spending in those communities while the work is being done. Not a bad deal – maintaining national parks while creating local jobs.

I urge other members of Ohio’s congressional delegation to join Sens. Portman and Brown, and Reps. Joyce, Kaptur, Stivers and Turner in supporting this important issue. It will ensure Cuyahoga Valley and other national park sites in Ohio and across the nation will remain beautiful and safe for future generations to enjoy.