Room for national parks in next federal budget?

For the first time in several years, America's national parks may see more federal funding, rather than budget cuts. Photo courtesy Utah Office of Tourism.

SALT LAKE CITY – Fans of Arizona’s national parks are watching carefully as Congress puts President Obama’s budget under the microscope in April.

Obama is proposing an increase of $55 million in the National Park Service budget for 2015, including $10 million as a “Centennial Initiative” to get the parks ready for the agency’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2016.

John Garder, budget and appropriations director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said it’s a promising start after years of budget-cutting have taken a toll on park maintenance and staffing.

“It’s a modest increase over last year,” he said. “It doesn’t get parks back to where they were just a few years ago, before damaging cuts, to ensure that people can have a really inspiring and a safe experience out in our parks.”

According to a National Park Service report, Utah’s national park units attracted more than 9 million visitors in 2012. The report shows that the tourism also added more than $600 million in economic benefit and supported more than 9,000 jobs.

Utah’s five national parks are Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion.

Garder said additional park funding is much needed for a system that has put off about $12 billion of maintenance in recent years. From historic resources to water and sewer systems, visitor centers, roads and trails, he said many are in disrepair.

“The main cause for the growth of the deferred-maintenance backlog is the decline in Congress’ investment in the construction account, which creates so many jobs,” he said. “In today’s dollars, the construction account for the National Park Service has been cut nearly in half, just in the last four years.”

According to the Park Service, more than 280 million park visits nationally last year added more than $14 billion in spending and supported nearly a quarter million jobs.

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