Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Fans of Pennsylvania's national parks are watching carefully as Congress puts President Barack Obama's budget under the microscope in April.
The president is proposing a small 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 of the National Parks Conservation Association, says it's a promising start after 25 years of budget trimming have taken a toll on park maintenance and staffing.
"It's a modest increase over last year,” he says. “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."
National parks, monuments, trails and historic sites are pumping more than $444 million into Pennsylvania's economy each year.
Numbers from the National Park Service show more than 9 million visits to National Park Service sites in Pennsylvania in 2013.
Garder says 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 says 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 explains. “In today's dollars, the construction account for the National Park Service has been cut nearly in half, just in the last four years."