Alexander, Zinke visit Smoky Mountains to pitch more spending on National Park maintenance

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Saturday to lament the past lack of money for national park maintenance and to promote “The National Park Restoration Act,” a bill pending in Congress to change the situation, reports the News Sentinel.

Speaking from the grounds of the closed Look Rock Campground, the pair drew attention to the National Park Service’s $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance needs, including $215 million in deferred maintenance from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“What we have here is an example of not prioritizing what we love,” said Zinke of national park funding. In the 2017 fiscal year, NPS received only $2.9 million in annual appropriations, well short of the nearly $12 billion sum needed to address total deferred maintenance needs.

The bill, which has support from several key Democratic lawmakers as well as the Trump administration, would provide mandatory funding for NPS maintenance needs by allocating 50 percent of onshore and offshore revenues from energy production on federal lands.

“President Trump is a builder. He loves to build, and this country loves the parks. It’s a good match,” said Zinke of the president’s support for the funding measure. “Some things when you bring up to the president, he lights up, and anything that has to do with building, it grabs his attention and he enjoys that.”

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the fund could provide up to $18 billion in park funding over the next 10 years, though estimates from the Office of Management and Budget predict numbers closer to $7 billion over that time period.

“If it were to be that successful over 10 years, I would think Congress would be very happy with the result and would want to extend the program,” said Alexander, saying he expects the bill to pass in Congress by the end of the year.

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