Out of Service: National Parks Deferred Maintenance Awaits Funding

June 27, 2016
NPS Repairs deferred maintenance
Johnida Dockens on flickr/creative commons 2.0High-traffic parks, such as Bunker Hill (during 2010 renovations), take priority among deferred maintenance projects.

The first thing a visitor to Boston’s Breed’s Hill notices is the iconic obelisk honoring the Revolutionary War battle fought here and at nearby Bunker Hill. But a closer look reveals sights that don’t befit such treasured grounds.

North of the monument, metal barricades block access to stairs that have fallen into disrepair. On the park’s eastern side, yellow caution tape warns guests of a misaligned step. Along the accessibility ramp, a rope hangs in lieu of a permanent guardrail.

“They’re eyesores, and they detract from the visitor experience and the significance of the site,” says Sean Hennessey, the director of arts, culture, and tourism for Boston National Historical Park, a group of sites that includes Breed’s Hill and is managed by the National Park Service (NPS).

Examples of necessary repairs dot the entire National Park system, from historic locations such as Breed’s Hill to national parks such as Acadia, in Maine, as a result of a deferred maintenance backlog that has reached an estimated cost of $11.9 billion. NPS properties in the Northeast account for $2.7 billion of that price tag.

Congress and private donors have provided some assistance. This year’s federal budget increased funding for deferred maintenance by $118 million, and a portion of the $70 million raised by an NPS centennial campaign has been tagged for these projects. Even so, the backlog is growing.

“If you’re a homeowner, you would be thinking about replacing a roof after about 30 years to keep it in good condition,” says Brian Strack, of NPS’s Northeast office. “If you have inadequate funding, [the repair] doesn’t get performed, and it continues to deteriorate.”

To manage the situation, NPS has been forced to prioritize certain needs; for example, a high-traffic property will take precedence over a less-visited site. If the funding gap doesn’t close, NPS may pursue other options, including public-private partnerships. Strack says some buildings not deemed mission-critical could be removed and fewer trails maintained.

In other words, don’t put visiting these national treasures on your own backlog.



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Dan Eisner

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.