For All To Enjoy
Our national parks and monuments are not only beautiful places to visit and explore, but they are also economic engines for rural communities across the West. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy in New Mexico generates 99,000 direct jobs, $9.9 billion in consumer spending, $2.8 billion in wages and salaries, and $623 million in state and local tax revenue.
However, the infrastructure of our national parks desperately needs an overhaul to keep them accessible for a new generation of visitors. The visitor elevators at Carlsbad Caverns finally went into service this month for the first time since 2015. That long delay is just one example of how the National Park Service's deferred maintenance backlog is hurting our parks.
That's why I am fighting to pass bipartisan legislation to invest in our Park Service infrastructure to ensure our national parks are safe and accessible. Last week, I questioned Park Service leadership about this in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I hope you can take a moment to read and share an article in the Carlsbad Current Argus about my efforts to make fixing the Carlsbad Caverns elevators and addressing the maintenance backlog a priority for the National Park Service.
Please continue to join me in fighting to protect and conserve New Mexico's treasured public lands, water, and wildlife for all to enjoy.
United States Senator
Adrian C Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus Published July 13, 2018
The primary elevators at Carlsbad Caverns National Park went back into service last week after a three-year modernization project following a breakdown in 2015.
Next, the park planned to rebuild the small secondary, or backup, elevators which were used during the shutdown of the primary system.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) questioned officials with the National Park Service on the project and the NPS' maintenance backlog - and its effects on nearby, rural economies.
The questions came during a Wednesday legislative hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.
Heinrich first addressed Lena McDowall, deputy director of management and administration for the NPS and U.S. Department of Interior.
McDowall said the secondary elevator project is slated for 2021, at a cost of about $19 million.
"That will be a big project," she said. "It is in our line item construction list for 2021 at this point."
More: Elevators face more delays beyond prediction at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Heinrich applauded the completion of the primary elevator project, but cautioned that the backup elevators have proven unreliable in recent years, and must be upgraded.
While the primary elevators were offline, the secondary system suffered breakdowns, forcing visitors to take the natural entrance into the Caverns.
In March, a family from Michigan were stranded for hours in a secondary elevator car when it broke down about 740 feet underground.
The NPS' deferred maintenance must be addressed to the benefit of the rural communities, Heinrich said, that host many national parks and monuments.
"I was really excited to see the primary elevators at Carlsbad Caverns go back into service last week. That was the first time since 2015, as you may know. However, our secondary elevators have also proven to be unreliable, due to many decades of deferred maintenance," Heinrich said.
"The reality here is that deferred maintenance is debt. When you choose not to invest in things, it is going to cost you more later. It should be reflected in our balance sheet as such."
He said national parks are essential economic drivers for the communities that host them.
"When we have these park service jewels that are really, truly the economic engines of rural communities across the west, of communities all over the country in both rural and urban areas, they deserve for us to do something about this."
Rural communities such as Carlsbad especially rely on national parks for tourism - a major driver of rural economies, Heinrich said.
Heinrich referenced data from a recent report by the Joint Economic Committee he said showed that rural communities who host NPS units recovered faster from the recession in 2007.
"How does the park's maintenance backlog specifically affect rural communities, and how does it impact the economies of our gateway communities?" Heinrich said.
Marcia Argust, director of Pew Charitable Trust's Restore America's Parks program, pointed to jobs as the answer.
She said Pew commissioned a study last year that showed that projects in the NPS maintenance backlog could represent 110,000 infrastructure-related jobs across the country.
Parks bring about 306,000 jobs annually, records show.
"A number of our parks are certainly in rural communities or rural areas as you note," she said to Heinrich. "A number of those are larger parks. Parks are certainly an economic engine.
"Jobs in rural communities, very important. Addressing deferred maintenance, it's important to preserving historic resources, landscape resources, but also important to the economy."