Secretary of Interior nominee backs more money for Smokies

At a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to become U.S. secretary of the interior, committed to more funding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reports WPLN.

While the Smokies attract twice as many visitors as Yellowstone, the Tennessee park gets only half of the federal money. It’s also prevented from charging an entrance fee due to the way it was acquired by the federal government.

Zinke acknowledged this disparity during his hearing and said he hopes to work toward solving it.

“The Smokies is different than other parks, it should be recognized,” he said. “Working forward with this committee on the infrastructure bill, we’re hoping we can take a big bite out of the deferred maintenance on infrastructure. There’s a number of roads and facilities in there.”

Zinke was also questioned about the deadly wildfires that started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and burned through Gatlinburg. He said he would work with Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to learn from the tragedy and implement prevention strategies.

Note: Alexander’s news release on the hearing is below.

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2017 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today received a commitment from Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) – President-elect Trump’s selection to become the next U.S. Secretary of the Interior – to complete the review of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s response to the wildfires as quickly as possible.

“I want to thank the National Park Service, and in particular Superintendent Cassius Cash and his team from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for their rapid response to the wildfires that occurred in November. I appreciate their willingness to work with the local government in Gatlinburg and Sevier County, and I know folks in that area appreciate their hard work too,” Alexander said. “It is important for the Interior Department to have a careful review of the response to the Sevier County fires to determine what lessons could be learned for the future. I appreciate Rep. Zinke agreeing to move forward with the Individual Fire Review.”

Today, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – of which Alexander is a member – held the confirmation hearing for Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to become the next U.S. Secretary of the Interior. In the hearing, Rep. Zinke told Alexander that he would complete the Individual Fire Review of the Chimney Tops fire if he is confirmed.

Sen. Alexander met with Rep. Zinke on Jan. 5, and after the meeting the congressman said, “Rep. Ryan Zinke shares my commitment to public lands and recreational access—they are critical to a state like Tennessee that is home to more than 400,000 acres of land managed by the Department of Interior and the most visited national park in the country.”

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracted more than 11 million visitors in 2016 and generates almost $900 million in economic activity for local communities. The National Park Service is a part of the Department of the Interior.

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