This weekend kicks off National Parks week. Entrance fees for all 59 National Parks are being waved – they’re all free… And the Park Service is encouraging everyone to visit.
The agency turns 100 years old next year, and with tens of millions of visitors every year, the parks want to make some long needed repairs before the celebration begins.
Rose Breece can’t think of a better place to volunteer, pulling up non-native plants at Shenandoah National Park. “It’s just very peaceful[.] Hearing the birds – feeling the breeze,” said Breece.
She knows her work helps save money, and money is a big problem for the Park Service.
Last year, there were a record 292 million visits to national parks like the Grand Canyon – Yellowstone – or Skyline Drive in Virginia.
Some saw crumbling rock walls, cracked bathroom sinks, and paved walkways covered in moss.
The Park Service estimates it’ll need $11.5 billion dollars to fix maintenance projects that have been neglected for years. “And then you actually have to spend a lot more money repairing them – instead of just maintaining them,” said Steve Herzog, Chief of Facilities – Shenandoah National Park.
But Congress may not foot the entire bill.
Most National Parks and monuments are free – one in four charge fees – but that doesn’t cover all the repairs.
Congress is looking at a new idea – “centennial challenge” – the government matching donations from individuals, businesses and foundations. “This would be a classy way of being able to leverage private dollars along with public dollars,” said Chair Appropriations Subcommittee Interior Dept. Rep. Ken Calvert (R).
And there’s no time to waste.
Millions are expected to visit great falls on the Potomac and other sites next year – when the park service celebrates 100 years.