National Parks Need $12 Billion in Maintenance

You thought you were bad at fixing up things around the house? It’s far worse for the chronically underfunded Park Service.


That the National Park Service has a huge backlog of overdue chores is nothing new, but the level of what it calls deferred maintenance—things that have needed fixing for more than a year—grew a whopping $440 million in fiscal year 2015, to almost $12 billion. The growth was nearly half a billion dollars last year, not the total.

“While Congress provided increases this year, the annual bill for maintenance in America’s national parks is still almost twice as much as is appropriated,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

Others were a little blunter than Jarvis.

“A nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog is further proof that the National Park Service does not have the funding and resources it needs to protect America’s favorite places,” said National Parks Conservation Association President Theresa Pierno. “And this comes at a time when record-breaking crowds are visiting our national parks. This is the centennial year of the National Park Service. If Congress doesn’t make our parks a national priority in the federal budget now, then when? While Congress did begin to reverse years of declining funding for our national parks with its latest spending bill, the reality is that years of underfunding have significantly harmed our parks.”

Parks are chronically underfunded for general operations as well as critical maintenance. The Park Service actually lost three percent of its funding between 2005 and 2014—although the budget grew 15 percent in dollars, the bite from inflation was larger. “Annual appropriations, which comprised about 88 percent of total funding on average, declined 8 percent after adjusting for inflation,” reported the Government Accountability Office last December.

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The maintenance backlog is approximately four times the Park Service operation budget of $3 billion.

The problem affects nearly every one of the the Service’s properties, but is greatest in the highest profile, most-visited sites. The National Mall in Washington, D.C., has the largest backlog: $808 million. It’s followed by Yellowstone National Park with $606 million, Yosemite with $555 million, and Grand Canyon with $371 million. By comparison, the total annual operation budget for Yellowstone is $34 million and Yosemite’s is $29 million.

Here’s a look at the backlog by state and territory. Delaware is the only state without a backlog.

1. California, $1,769,798,353
2. District of Columbia, $1,301,354,798
3. New York, $927,855,608
4. Wyoming, $842,118,361
5. Virginia, $816,357,202

6. Arizona, $580,239,974
7. Washington, $510,272,842
8. North Carolina, $428,608,185
9. Maryland, $363,797,841
10. Mississippi, $308,991,982

11. Pennsylvania, $300,200,365
12. Tennessee, $294,477,665
13. Utah, $292,488,192
14. Montana, $265,928,007
15. Massachusetts, $228,755,301

16. Florida, $214,953,642
17. Colorado, $203,111,169
18. New Jersey, $202,161,638
19. Nevada, $189,706,198
20. Texas, $147,000,512

21. Hawaii, $133,702,053
22. Alaska, $114,677,038
23. New Mexico, $113,613,239
24. Georgia, $111,776,734
25. Kentucky, $109,815,681

26. Oregon, $104,054,813
27. Missouri, $81,373,745
28. Ohio, $73,813,420
29. Maine, $68,805,286
30. West Virginia, $51,176,010

31. South Dakota, $48,856,410
32. Michigan, $47,265,978
33. North Dakota, $41,624,977
34. Arkansas, $41,538,303
35. South Carolina, $35,341,417

36. Indiana, $33,557,123
37. Oklahoma, $32,532,021
38. Territories, $21,345,434
39. Minnesota, $21,146,113
40 Alabama, $21,145,704

41. Idaho, $15,939,757
42. Illinois, $15,329,723
43. Louisiana, $15,188,289
44. Wisconsin, $9,895,654
45. Iowa, $7,483,453

46. Nebraska, $6,728,942
47. Kansas, $5,264,431
48. New Hampshire, $4,846,760
49. Connecticut, $2,903,220
50. Vermont, $2,475,396

51. Rhode Island, $1,531,931

See the state-by-state and park-by-park report here.

Photo by Grand Canyon National Park

Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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Showing 2 comments
  • Dan Dickinson
    Reply

    I could give a rats ass if the roads have slumps & cracks, the buildings paint peeling with moss growing on the roofs, whether or not the johns are cleaned regularly or not (although restocked TP is nice :) ), and how many rangers are patrolling. What really counts is the beauty of the untrammeled land, and protection of these rarified monuments of nature . So i say. Protect More!

  • Mark
    Reply

    You need to do an in-depth report on one of the parks and find out what “maintenance” they are referring too. Bureaucrats love to make up numbers that are higher then the real figure. They know that Congress is always going to give them less then they ask for.

    I have seen way too many over built trails in National Parks. There is a trail in Canyonlands where the park used square cut blocks from a quarry as cairns. Each must have weighed 60 lbs and they had used ~20 blocks. Apparently regular rocks aren’t good enough for the Park Service.

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