The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee I am a member of just took an important step toward passing the Restore Our Parks Act – bipartisan legislation I introduced that would be the single most important thing to happen to our National Parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in a half century.
One of America’s greatest story tellers, Ken Burns, has called our country’s national parks “America’s best idea.” But today, America’s “best idea” is in trouble. Our national park system has a $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog. This means that the park system doesn’t have the money needed to maintain our parks’ roads, bridges and campgrounds.
For example, in the Smokies, Look Rock Campground has been closed for five years because of the water treatment facility. That means the 5,000 families who used Look Rock Campground can’t go anymore.
That is why it is crucial the Restore Our Parks Act becomes law – so we can get rid of half of our parks’ deferred maintenance backlog in the next five years so Americans can enjoy them.
Here’s how my bill will do this: the legislation will use revenues from energy production on federal lands to provide mandatory funding for the maintenance backlog at our national parks.
This is a well-established conservation principle: taking some of the money created by an environmental burden and using it for an environmental benefit.
I grew up in Maryville, right next to the Smokies, and some of my best memories I have are related to the Smokies.
When I was 15, my dad dropped me off at Newfound Gap the day after Christmas. I was with two other boys in three feet of snow and my dad said, “I’ll pick you up in Gatlinburg” which was 15 miles away.
And he did, later that afternoon.
Then, later that same year, we were in Spence Field, and we made an error in judgment.
At about three in the morning, I looked over and I thought one of my bunkmates was moving around. But, it turns out it was a bear.
We left breakfast in our packs inside the tent, which is something you should never do and a mistake I didn’t make again.
In this age of iPads and iPhones and Alexa and Netflix – our national parks are more, not less important.
They preserve beauty for everyone to share. Parents bring children out of their digital diet to feast on a world of natural splendor. We learn our history in a place where history comes alive – not just the history of the world, but the history of East Tennessee, the history of Wyoming, the history of Maine, and the history of Montana.
We must all work together to restore our national treasures so future generations have the same opportunity to enjoy them as we have. That is why I’m glad the Restore Our Parks Act was approved by the Energy and Natural Resources committee, and I hope the full Senate passes the legislation quickly so President Trump can sign it into law.