Glacier and Yellowstone national parks loom large in Montana in several significant ways. They provide the iconic backdrops and outdoor experiences that make this place unique – and which make this state a must-visit destination for tourists and a must-stay decision for many residents.
The popularity of these two national parks increases measurably each year, but unfortunately, so does the backlog of deferred maintenance. In this, Glacier and Yellowstone are not unique within the National Park Service – or even within Montana, where sites like the Big Hole National Battlefield and Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site have also put off repairs.
All told, National Park Service deferred maintenance projects in Montana total some $267 million, the majority of which is due to deteriorating roads. On behalf of Montana, and all those who love our national parks, our two U.S. senators and U.S. representative should support the 2016 federal budget request from President Barack Obama which promises to fund overdue repairs.
The budget request contains a total of $11.49 billion for the National Park Service to finally begin crossing items off its long list of deferred maintenance projects. It would allow Big Hole National Battlefield to tackle its wastewater system, park housing and roads. It would provide $178.5 to Glacier National Park to repair roads as well as more than 300 acres of campgrounds and 750 miles of trails. And it dedicates $686.5 million to a host of projects within the 3,500 square miles covered by Yellowstone, which Montana shares with Idaho and Wyoming.
These projects would position the nation's beloved places to welcome record-breaking numbers of visitors well into the future. According to the National Park Service, 2014 was Glacier National Park's busiest yet, with more than 2.33 million visitors. Meanwhile, Yellowstone recorded more than 3.5 million visitors last year, its second-highest visitation and the eighth year in a row it saw more than 3 million visitors.
These numbers are felt throughout the state, with Montana's state parks also logging record-high visitation numbers and communities reaping the economic boon. According to the report on 2014 from the Institute for Tourism & Recreation Research at the University of Montana, 11 million out-of-state tourists came to Montana last year. They contributed $3.98 billion in spending – a new record – that helped support more than 55,000 Montana jobs.
These visitors shouldn't be met by deteriorating roads, bridges and trails. They ought to have reliable access to adequately maintained campgrounds and water systems.
Next year – 2016 – marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The president's budget request is timely. The support of Montana's congressional delegation is crucial.