KALISPELL — Glacier National Park's maintenance backlog has dropped by $31 million over the last year, according to a report by the National Park Service.
The various maintenance projects in Glacier that have been put off or delayed — collectively known as a park's "deferred maintenance" — dropped to $148.2 million in 2016, down from $179.8 million in 2015.
The ongoing rehabilitation of the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, expected to wrap up early next year, helped knock out a substantial chunk of the existing backlog last year.
Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley said the roughly $170 million project, which began in 2006, is currently in its 10th phase.
The maintenance backlog for paved roads in Glacier totaled $123.5 million in 2015, and dropped to $90.7 million by September 2016, according to the latest report. Other paved roads with outstanding maintenance obligations include Camas, Two Medicine, Many Glacier and Chief Mountain roads.
However, needed repairs to buildings in the park climbed by more than $340,000, to a total of $28 million. And unfunded trail-work needs rose by nearly $3 million, and now totals $11.2 million.
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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who grew up near Glacier Park and now oversees the National Park Service, has identified the estimated $12.5 billion deferred maintenance backlog as one of his top three priorities.
But John Garder, director of budget and appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association, said President Donald Trump's proposed budget recommends a 9 percent decrease for system-wide deferred-maintenance needs from current spending levels.
And while he would like to see a bigger maintenance budget for the parks, Garder said his organization wants Congress to provide annual appropriations to fund maintenance projects over the next 30 years, gradually increasing to a half-billion dollars per year by 2027.
"That would provide the dedicated and robust funding levels that are really needed to get the most important projects done," Garder said.
Regardless of how the final national parks budget numbers emerge, Alley said that Glacier intends to focus its limited funding on continuing to trim the backlog.
"It's certainly a priority, and we're directing a lot of our funds, a lot of our entrance fees, to deferred maintenance," she said.