During national Infrastructure Week, a coalition of business, conservation and veterans groups is calling on Congress to tackle an $11 billion backlog of deferred maintenance in America's national parks.
Funds are needed to fix roads, trails, visitor centers, sewage systems, power lines and more. Curtis Wells, vice chairman of the Grand County Council in Moab, said a surge of visitors, including 15 million last year who spent more than $1 billion in gateway communities, has taken a toll.
"The National Park System has served as a significant economic-development engine for the state of Utah," he said. "In many rural communities, it's served as a kind of economic backbone."
Last year alone, Wells said, parks generated $1.6 billion in statewide economic output along with 17,000 jobs. More than 180 groups have signed a letter asking Congress to invest in National Park Service infrastructure and put their members to work - including architects, electricians, engineers and construction workers.
Marcia Argust, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' Restore America's Parks campaign, said the investment would help preserve the nation's history, protect recreation opportunities and create jobs.
"A Pew-commissioned analysis found that, if the maintenance backlog facing the National Park Service was fully addressed, more than 110,000 jobs could be created or supported nationwide," she said, "including more than 2,700 jobs in Utah alone."
There are 17 National Park Service sites in Utah, including five national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. For many, Wells said, the parks are a symbol of national pride and should be kept in tip-top shape as a matter of principle.
"This is an apolitical, bipartisan issue," he said. "Failing infrastructure, declining infrastructure in the National Park System is unacceptable and should be a priority for all Americans."