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Interior secretary shown level of park's maintenance needs

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - Interior Secretary Gale Norton said she was struck by the level of maintenance needs in the nation's oldest national park, where problems range from poor trails to unusable bathrooms.

Norton visited the park Friday on a windy, overcast day to gather information about the park's maintenance backlog and other problems.

Yellowstone would have to spend about $700 million to address a list of needed repairs, infrastructure improvements and other projects, park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews said. The park's fiscal 2001 budget is $31.5 million.

Roads and trails are in disrepair, some buildings aren't made for winter use and old vehicles and heavy equipment are costly to maintain. Sewer systems are aging - in some cases failing - and not all restrooms are usable.

"For me seeing those things first-hand was very important," Norton said.

Norton reiterated President Bush's pledge to invest $4.9 billion over the next five years to make improvements to the nation's parks. Bush has proposed spending nearly $440 million in the next federal budget to address the disrepair. Yellowstone would get about $30 million.

Matthews said Yellowstone needs more rangers, biologists and others who monitor and protect park resources, as well as better visitor education centers.

Roughly 3 million people a year visit Yellowstone. The park, established in 1872, covers more than 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and has the sixth-highest number of visitors.

On Saturday, Norton was scheduled to join Vice President Cheney in announcing a Rockefeller family donation of a 1,106-acre ranch to expand the 310,000-acre Grand Teton National Park, which borders Yellowstone to the south.

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