Desert Discovery Hike — Saguaro National Park East

Desert Discovery Hike — Saguaro National Park East. Western National Parks Association is an education partner of 71 parks across 12 Western states.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Nature, history, culture and outdoor recreation drive economies in communities that have developed around national parks and public lands. The Western National Parks Association is an education partner of 71 parks across 12 Western states, from Saguaro National Park to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, from Chaco Culture National Historical Park to Canyon De Chelly National Monument and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. A life without these places is not a life I would want to even imagine, nor would the millions of people who visit and/or make a living from these national treasures.

The National Park Service’s data show that visitors spent more than $20.2 billion in communities near or adjacent to national parks and that NPS sites supported 329,000 jobs in 2018. That same year, 12.9 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.3 billion in local gateway regions while visiting NPS sites in Arizona. These expenditures supported a total of almost 20,000 jobs, $700 million in labor income, and $2.1 billion in economic output in the Arizona economy. Further, a 2018 analysis commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that fully investing in park repairs across the country could generate another 100,000 jobs.

The 35-day U.S. government shutdown earlier this year was a major threat to these communities, creating hardships for many people and causing irreparable damage to places we love. The WNPA lost close to $1 million in sales at our national park stores, resulting in seven staff layoffs at our home office in Tucson and a 25% reduction in the financial support we provide to our 71 NPS partners. Those reductions negatively impact the visitor experience and youth programs in parks.

In April, I had the privilege of joining the National Parks Conservation Association on Capitol Hill to honor bipartisan leadership and members of Congress who enabled the passage of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. This critical piece of legislation expanded national parks by more than 42,000 acres, expanded the National Trails System by 2,600 miles and added 621 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

It also continued the Every Kid in a Park program that provides free entry to America’s public lands for fourth-graders and their families. The bill established six new national heritage areas — including the long-sought Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Area right here in Southern Arizona — and it permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an irreplaceable conservation tool.

Two bipartisan bills were left out of this omnibus package and need your support. The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (HR 1225) and the Restore Our Parks Act (S 500) would address priority repairs at the more than 400 aging — and in many cases deteriorating — national park facilities in the United States. HR 3195 would enable the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. Nearly every state and local park across the country has benefited from LWCF funds.

Surveys continuously show that Americans treasure our national parks and want them protected and maintained. Fixing our park infrastructure is a smart investment that strengthens local communities and ensures visitor access and safety to these remarkable places. Please join me in reaching out to your House and Senate elected officials to push for the passage of these measures.

James E. Cook is the executive director of Western National Parks Association.