Zinke and Alexander: How to protect America’s ‘best idea’

Editor’s Note: Ryan Zinke is the United States secretary of the interior. Lamar Alexander is a Republican United States senator from Tennessee. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

CNN  — 

In 2017, over 330 million visitors traveled to see the memorials and monuments across our great nation. Every American should be able to enjoy our treasured parks, but heavy traffic and aging infrastructure are taking a toll on America’s system of 417 National Park Service sites. Bluntly, our parks are being loved to death and it’s time to invest in restoring and preserving them for future generations.

Ryan Zinke
Lamar Alexander

Writer and conservationist Wallace Stegner rightly called national parks America’s “best idea,” but neglect in infrastructure funding has resulted in our trails being eroded, visitor amenities being diminished and campgrounds being closed.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which attracted 11 million visitors last year, has a $215 million deferred maintenance backlog. In 2013, the park had to close its Look Rock campground and picnic area due to funding shortfalls in replacing the water treatment facilities. The total deferred maintenance bill for all national park sites is four times the annual congressional appropriation.

The good news is that this year, we have a proposal in Congress that could tackle most, if not all, of that $11.6 billion backlog over the next 10 years. The proposal, from a bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives, has the backing of President Donald J. Trump. senators Angus King, I-Maine; Steve Daines, R-M