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Congress grills National Park Service on visitor problems

Drew Tarvin
/
Flickr Creative Commons
Zion National Park in Utah is among the sites in the NPS that has seen elevated crowd levels in recent years.

News brief: 

Recent federal laws – like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Actand Great American Outdoors Act – have provided hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding for the National Park Service. Yet some members of Congress say the agency isn’t moving fast enough on construction projects and improvements for visitors.

During a recent committee hearing, several House members questioned the agency about overcrowded trails, reservation limits, increasing fees and closures that they say have been too common in recent years.

“Americans continue to love their national parks, as they should, but the management stinks,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. “Bathrooms are dirty, windows are broken and trails across the country are closed.”

The park service has about $22.3 billion in deferred maintenance and repair projects, and it continues to struggle with staffing and housing shortages.

Mike Reynolds, deputy director for Congressional and external relations, testified that recent funding will take a long time to make its full impact on the agency – and as projects begin, temporary closures and delays will be necessary. Still, he told the House committee that long-term progress is happening.

Reynolds also said that many of the problems with crowds and trail overuse are at extremely popular parks like Zion and Yellowstone. He said the agency is encouraging people to travel to lesser-known destinations.

“We have this phenomenon of social media helping to amplify certain places and people show up,” Reynolds said. “We need to add to that to let people understand the other gems that they can visit.”

Congress will continue to evaluate the parks service as it seeks another budget increase in the next fiscal year.

In the meantime, the agency is waiving all entrance fees on Friday, Aug. 4, at its sites.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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