Guest Opinion: National Park sites need maintenance

This is National Parks Week, a time to honor America’s crown jewels such as Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. This also is an excellent week to think about how we benefit from our national parks in social, cultural and economic terms.

Oregon is lucky to have some truly remarkable members of the national park family. In addition to Oregon Caves, we have Crater Lake, John Day Fossil Beds, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, and more. Visitors come from throughout the country and around the world to enjoy the natural beauty, trails and cultural heritage provided by these parks.

In 2016, over 80,000 visitors came to Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. Those visitors spent an estimated $5.8 million in local communities from Cave Junction to Ashland to Grants Pass and beyond. Those expenditures supported a total of 94 jobs and generated $7.4 Million in economic output in those local, Southern Oregon communities.

Throughout the state, over one million people visited national parks and spent $97.5 million in local communities. According to the National Park Service, that spending supported 1,640 jobs and added a cumulative benefit of $138.4 million to the state economy — money that helps businesses, schools, and families.

The majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the rustic period of Great Lodge construction come together at the Chateau at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. Built in 1934, this National Historic Landmark lodge had degraded to the point where the entire building was in danger of being lost. The Friends of the Oregon Caves and Chateau was formed in 2008 in cooperation with NPS to preserve, protect and improve the cultural and natural resources of the chateau and monument.

Fortunately, after 10 years of hard work by the Park Service, the Friends of the Oregon Caves and Chateau, our congressional delegation, the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon and many supporters, Congress has provided funds for critically needed life and safety upgrades to the Oregon Caves Chateau, scheduled to begin in 2019. The Friends continues to raise needed funds to restore the interior furnishings of the chateau. We also salute outgoing Monument Superintendent Vicki Snitzler, who worked tirelessly to achieve this new beginning.

Unfortunately, nationwide, NPS has maintenance needs totaling $11.6 billion, largely due to aging infrastructure and inconsistent federal funding. These include eroding trails, crumbling roads and degraded water and electrical systems.

The estimated price tag to address repairs within park sites in Oregon is over $105 million. Oregon Caves alone has a deferred maintenance backlog of over $15 million, with the lion’s share needed to restore the Oregon Caves Chateau, the historic Guide Dormitory (which is currently closed) and the Visitor Center.

So, for National Park Week, we want to thank Congress for the contribution it has made to the Oregon Caves and encourage members to listen to us and the thousands of local and national groups — businesses, tourism, lodging, recreation, veterans, infrastructure, unions — who are calling on them to dedicate more resources to restore and maintain our parks.

Bernie Thurber is chairman of the board and Sue Densmore is executive director of Friends of the Oregon Caves and Chateau.

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