The U.S. House and Senate are set to consider legislation that would direct royalties from energy development on federal lands and waters to address a $12 billion backlog in deferred maintenance in national parks.
Phil Francis, chair of The Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, says preserving parks is important, in part, because more than 330 million people from all parts of the globe visited parks last year, generating nearly $40 billion in economic impact.
"Yellowstone and Grand Teton, they're economic engines, because people love them," Francis states. "They're special places, special enough that people will take their vacations and spend their money and spend their time to go see part of America's treasures."
Visitors to national parks in Wyoming spent $928 million in 2018 alone, which Francis says supports gateway community businesses, workers and local tax coffers.
National Park Service sites in Wyoming are in need of more than $770 million in deferred maintenance costs, for roads, trails, boardwalks, plumbing and other critical infrastructure.
Former Yellowstone Deputy Superintendent Steve Iobst says deferred maintenance creates safety concerns for visitors and staff.
Road maintenance accounts for about half of Yellowstone's total backlog needs, which Iobst says are mission critical for emergency vehicles responding to medical incidents or traffic accidents.
He adds loss of boardwalk segments also has restricted access to key sites.
"Boardwalks are not in very good condition," he stresses. "There have been some closures of segments of boardwalk, therefore not allowing access by the visitors to Yellowstone to see the geothermal areas."
A 2018 poll conducted for The Pew Charitable Trusts found more than 75 percent of Americans want Congress to pass funding that would pay for repairs at National Park Service sites.
More than half of lawmakers in the U.S. House and more than a third of the Senate currently support legislation to do just that.