In a normal year, which this most certainly is not, Acadia National Park attracts millions of visitors hailing from all over Maine, the U.S. and the world. Tourists are still enjoying the park this year, but the pandemic has upended many travel plans. The 2020 visitation figures, when available, are likely to be far off from the estimated 3.4 million visitors in 2019.
On the plus side, a quieter Acadia is a boon for Mainers who want to explore the park but were not willing to brave the traffic of previous years. Any lull is also an opportunity to further assess the park’s needs, catch up on projects and invest in the future. Acadia is essential to this region’s future and to its immediate economic recovery.
There’s good news from Washington in the form of The Great American Outdoors Act, which will provide funding for backlogged maintenance projects at national parks and other federal lands as well as $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bill, approved by the Senate in June, passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. House July 22. It was headed last week to the desk of President Trump, who indicated he would sign the measure into law. Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden were cosponsors. The package includes the Restore Our Parks Act introduced by Sen. King and others and cosponsored by Collins to address a $12-billion maintenance backlog in national parks.
The legislation establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands. Starting in fiscal year 2021, half of federal revenues (up to $1.9 billion a year for five years) from oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy development on federal lands and waters will be deposited in the fund. The money must be used for priority deferred maintenance projects on properties run by the National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management or the Bureau of Indian Education.
Acadia’s backlog totals about $65.8 million worth of deferred projects. High on the list is replacing the maintenance building at park headquarters, which is structurally unsound and too small for the park’s needs. “The maintenance building … is literally going to have a roof collapse if we don’t get after replacing it,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said last year. Luckily, the casual observer sees only Acadia’s beauty, not all the projects on the to-do list. It all adds up, however, and eventually detracts from the visitor experience and from the marketability of the region.
Public lands are a national treasure and responsibility. An investment in them is an investment in the economic and physical wellbeing of this and future generations. All the better that the funding comes from use of these national resources and not new tax dollars. We cannot just take, we have to give back.