North Coast governments are urging federal lawmakers to push for reliable funding for the National Park Service, pointing to nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance in parks across the country.
Clatsop County, Astoria and Warrenton recently passed resolutions recognizing the cultural, educational, recreational and economic benefits the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park brings to North Coast communities, and supporting legislation that would help establish dedicated annual money for park maintenance.
“The growing backlog of infrastructure repairs in our national parks must be addressed if they are to keep up with increased visitation,” Astoria Mayor Arline LaMear said in a statement, adding, “Making sure visitors to Fort Clatsop have a safe and enjoyable visit is good business for Astoria and other cities that have a national park in their backyard will tell you the same.”
With its older facilities and a water system in need of an upgrade, the Lewis and Clark park had an estimated $2.5 million in deferred maintenance in 2016. Some of these projects will be tackled in the next few years.
Park Superintendent Jon Burpee does not have an official opinion on the bipartisan National Park Service Legacy Act that was introduced last year and that the local resolutions support. The act would provide dedicated annual funding over the next 30 years to address park maintenance.
The Lewis and Clark park is “fairly fortunate” in being able to do some of the work in-house and also being able to utilize park entrance fees from visitors, he said.
“That’s not always the case for every park,” he said, adding, “I’m pretty confident big chunks (of deferred maintenance) can be handled in the next couple of years.”
“It’s not necessarily the flashy stuff,” he said, “but it’s stuff that people don’t realize is there until it goes wrong.”
Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer’s first job was as a Youth Conservation Corps intern at Lewis and Clark. This later turned into a summer job as a park ranger, he said.
“With very few opportunities for paid internships that can lead to real jobs in Warrenton, my employment at the park played a pivotal role in my early life and career, and I know others in my city have felt the benefit of such economic and learning opportunities,” he said in a statement. “It is important that we continue to ensure that those opportunities remain accessible.”
The National Park Service estimates that in 2016 the Lewis and Clark park brought in more than 281,600 visitors, who spent more than $16 million in local area and supported 260 local jobs.
Clatsop County Commissioner Scott Lee said the Lewis and Clark park and the Fort Clatsop replica are “more than important pieces of our history, they generate significant economic activity for Clatsop County and its communities.”