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MADISON, Wis. - National Park Service sites in Wisconsin, such as Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, are in need of repairs. And conservation and tourism groups are hoping for a vote on a bill to address the massive maintenance backlog.
The Restore Our Parks Act is a bipartisan proposal to direct up to $6.5 billion in revenue from offshore oil and gas royalties to fix crumbling roads and buildings, as well as electrical and wastewater systems at the parks.
Celestino Ruffini, executive director at Visit Beloit, said national parks play a critical role in the state's economy.
"In 2016, there were more than 500,000 visitors that enjoyed national parks in Wisconsin," Ruffini said. "If you were to include visitors to the Ice Age National Trail, it would more than double. All of which brings in more than $40 million to those gateway communities."
Restore Our Parks legislation has cleared committee in both the U.S. House and the Senate, but it still needs a vote in both chambers. According to one recent study, tackling the estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog could stimulate the creation of 110,000 jobs nationwide. Marcia Argust, project director at The Pew Charitable Trusts' Restore America's Parks Campaign, said the bill has strong bipartisan support, but lawmakers will have to act soon, as the current Congress has a limited number of business days before it adjourns for the year.
"Many park facilities and resources are over 100 years old," Argust said. "And over the past few years, nearly 3,000 organizations across the nation have urged Congress to respond to this problem and fix our parks."
Over 90 percent of respondents in a recent Pew-commissioned survey said it is important to maintain trails, roads, historic buildings, campgrounds and other park infrastructure. Nationwide, visitors spent $18 billion visiting national parks in 2017 - supporting more than 300,000 jobs and generating $35 billion in economic activity.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.