From national parks and wildlife refuges to tribal schools, the Interior Department manages roughly 500 million acres of land that include significant infrastructure to make public lands accessible to Americans. Roads, bridges, trails, water systems, visitor centers and dorms -- even bathrooms, campgrounds and drinking fountains -- are all part of this critical, but often unnoticed, framework. After years of increased visitation and use, aging facilities and other vital structures are in urgent need of restoration.
Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure -- including public lands and Indian schools -- is an investment in our future. Public lands infrastructure is essential to providing world-class experiences to hundreds of millions of park visitors a year, keeps people safe and ensures that 47,000 kids in Indian Country have access to education.
One of the many ways Interior is tackling its aging infrastructure needs is through the President’s legislative proposal for a new Public Lands Infrastructure Fund. Using revenue produced by energy development on federal lands and waters, the fund would provide up to $18 billion over the next 10 years for Interior’s maintenance backlog in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education schools.
Check out some of the public lands and tribal schools that are in need of upgrades and repairs:
Every year, millions of visitors explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park along its 384 miles of paved and unpaved roads. The park has $211 million in deferred maintenance needs -- most of which is associated with its roads. On top of the roads, the park’s aging buildings need major repairs. A key destination for park goers, Sugarlands Visitor Center houses exhibits on wildlife, geology and history, and is in need of total reconstruction with an estimated cost of $25 million. The park is also well known for its historic buildings -- from churches, barns and smokehouses to a working grist mill and other eighteenth and nineteenth century structures -- but many of them need rehabilitation to ensure they remain safe, popular tourist spots.
Operated by the Bureau of Indian Education, the Cheyenne Eagle Butte School is one of the largest Native American schools in South Dakota. Serving students in two of the poorest counties in the state and nation, the school promotes academic achievement along with traditional Lakota cultural, language and extracurricular activities. With daunting challenges facing the young people in this community, the importance of a positive educational experience cannot be overestimated. The school is in urgent need of a variety of repairs, especially structural. With problems from the roofs to the foundations, the campus would benefit greatly from increased infrastructure funding.
A shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite and the tranquility of the High Sierra, Yosemite National Park was first protected in 1864. This California park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, visitors can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area and much more. The iconic park of the west also has more than $582 million in deferred maintenance needs. This includes wastewater treatment facilities in two popular areas of the park -- as well as aging campgrounds and other structures, roads and trails.
Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri welcomes 100,000 visitors a year who come to witness the migration of America's treasured bald eagles -- with over 300 eagles migrating through the refuge every winter. In addition to eagles, more than 6,000 migratory waterfowl are commonly present on the refuge daily during their winter migration. The first stop for visitors looking to witness this birding spectacle is the wildlife refuge’s visitor center, which needs more than $607,000 in repairs. Construction and supply contracts to complete this work will generate an estimated 13 jobs and $2.3 million in state and local economic activity.
Whether it’s storms big and small or daily weathering, Mother Nature has taken its toll on two of Florida’s national parks. Everglades National Park has more than $90 million in deferred maintenance needs. The park’s old Flamingo Visitor Center has a long list of needs while the Gulf Coast visitor center was recently condemned. Just off Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park has more than $60 million in deferred maintenance. This includes much needed repairs to the historic masonry moat walls that are battered by salt water.
The Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site has more than $10 million in deferred maintenance. The majestic estate -- known as Springwood -- was not only FDR’s birthplace but also serves as his final resting place. The first presidential library was created on the grounds. The historic structure needs repairs to its foundation, external finishes and interior paint and plaster to return the home to the character befitting the only U.S. president elected to serve four terms.
Developing a curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem solving, the To’Hajiilee Community School takes a holistic approach to educating the next generation of Navajo (Dine) students. The Bureau of Indian Education school integrates the community’s rich culture into core courses, culinary arts, music and art to ensure students develop a positive sense of identity and self. Currently, both the educational building and the gymnasium on campus are suffering from foundation issues that have caused a separation between the walls and the floors of up to 2 inches in some places. Repairing these critical facilities is not only a physical necessity but also signals a reinvestment in the future of American Indian children.
As the crown of the continent, Glacier National Park is the headwaters for streams that flow to the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson’s Bay. This popular Montana park has more than $153 million in maintenance needs -- from crumbling bridges and culverts, historic stone walls, roads and employee housing. It is important infrastructure that supports hiking, biking, backcountry camping, boating, touring on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road and more.
Established in 1998, Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in northern Maine was once part of the former Loring Air Force Base. Today, it attracts visitors year round for wildlife viewing, cross-country skiing, canoeing and kayaking, and photography. The wildlife refuge’s main road -- which provides access to the visitor center, trails and the auto tour route -- is in need of over $2.3 million in repairs. Construction and supply contracts to complete this work will generate an estimated 41 jobs and $7 million in state and local economic activity. Upgrading Aroostook’s road will also make it easier for visitors to explore this refuge.
Loved by millions each year, Grand Canyon National Park overwhelms the senses with its sheer size and beauty. The park also has more than $329 million in deferred maintenance. This includes the freshwater delivery infrastructure that serves the 2,500 residents, including park employees and the guests in Grand Canyon Village lodges. In this remote high desert park, fresh water is not only vital for drinking, cooking and other household needs, it is also essential for fire protection of Grand Canyon’s multitude of historic structures.