March 28, 2015

San Bernardino County’s national parks face huge repair backlog

"The potholes on the road in the (Mojave) National Preserve are so bad that people are getting flat tires."

Joshua Tree National Park saw more visitors in 2014 than any other year. (Staff file photo)

By Jim Steinberg
San Bernardino Sun

Going into the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, the nation’s 59 national parks have $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance — a record amount.

Three areas run by the NPS that are in at least partially in San Bernardino County have a combined $351 million backlog, says a recent NPS report on its collective deferred maintenance.

“The last big influx of money into the National Parks was under the Mission 66 program under the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s and 1960s,” said David Smith, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park, where the deferred maintenance budget is $83.2 million, primarily for roads, as is the case for the National Parks system as a whole.

Up and down California the deferred maintenance backlog has hit $1.7 billion, said John Gardner, director of budget and appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“The budget and appropriations system has broken down in recent years. ...We are unable to come to agreement to preserve one of America’s most prized assets,” he said.

“If Congress does not address the national parks’ infrastructure, they are going to fall into irreparable disrepair,” Gardner said.

At Joshua Tree National Park, which had a banner year last year with 1.6 million visitors, $70 million of the backlog is for roads.

Other deferred items:

• $3.8 million for trails.

• $3 million for building improvements.

• $1.5 million for campgrounds.

Death Valley has a backlog of $159 million, with $141 million for roads.

The Mojave National Preserve has a $109 million backlog, of which $103 million is for roads, Gardner said.

Every dollar invested in national parks generates $10 in economic activity, according to NPS research.

Yet the Park Service budget represents one-fifteenth of 1 percent of the federal budget, costing the average family roughly the same as a cup of coffee each year in tax dollars, according to the National Parks Conservation Service.

Ahead of the celebration of the NPS Centennial in 2016, NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, told members of the House subcommittee on Interior that visitors to America’s national parks are “too often”... “greeted by facilities in disrepair instead of a seasoned ranger ready to answer their questions.”

“I’m particularly sensitive to the deferred maintenance backlog in our National Parks system,” said Rep Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley. “My district has a number of National Park Service areas, including the Mojave National Preserve, that have experienced a significant amount of infrastructure deterioration over the years. The public must have access to public lands and without adequate roads, this is nearly impossible.”

Said Gardner: “The potholes on the road in the (Mojave) National Preserve are so bad that people are getting flat tires.”

Since 2005, the total budget for the NPS has declined by nearly half a billion dollars, or 22 percent in today’s dollars, Gardner said.

“To address this growing problem,” Cook said Friday, “I’ve signed on to a letter with several of my colleagues in Congress calling on the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior to augment current maintenance funding levels in the 2016 budget. This is an important step towards ensuring the public’s ability to recreate in our National Park Service land for years to come.”

“Preserving and maintaining our National Parks is important to our community and regional identity,” Rep. Pete Aguilar, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said Friday in a statement . “The lack of adequate funding prevents members of the community from enjoying the beauty and character of the Inland Empire. I absolutely believe we need to do a better job maintaining our National Parks.”