Today, we celebrate the historic centennial of the National Park Service, one of our country’s crowning achievements and a model of conservation and preservation that is used all over the world.
In Florida, we are a fortunate enough to have 11 national park sites. Each is unique to our area and each is deserving of national park protection. And this centennial year we’ve had some incredible victories on behalf of some of our parks right here in South Florida.
In partnership with National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the National Park Service, the City of Homestead is providing the first-ever free public transportation to and from Everglades and Biscayne National Parks from downtown Homestead.
At Biscayne National Park, a much-needed marine reserve was approved to protect the park’s coral reef habitat and to bring more fish back to Florida. We continue to fight to ensure Congress doesn’t legislate against the strong science and broad public support for this plan.
Construction began on the next two-and-a-half-mile bridge along Tamiami Trail, adding to the existing one-mile bridge. Both will help send more water south, through its natural path from the greater Everglades ecosystem, back to Everglades National Park and out to the Florida Keys.
Visitors to national parks in Florida make them not only popular travel destinations, but also economic engines for our gateway communities. In 2015, more than 10 million tourists visited our national parks in Florida and contributed $643,000,000 in economic benefits to the region.
Despite their record-breaking crowds and economic benefits, our parks have never been more challenged. The National Park Service has been forced to do more with less, operating on shoestring budgets. They are, collectively, facing $12 billion in repair needs—including crumbling buildings, sinking roads, and aging sewer systems. In fact, the agency entrusted with protecting our parks receives only 60 cents for every dollar it needs each year just to keep the backlog from growing.
Here in Florida, that maintenance backlog number totals nearly $215 million, much of it needed for transportation projects like road and bridge repairs. The Everglades alone needs $78.2 million. For example, the infamous lodge at Flamingo, the only one in the park, has not been rebuilt since it was destroyed by hurricanes in 2005. We cannot let our national parks falter on our watch.
Congress must ensure our national parks are safeguarded well into their second century. That means, in large part, making sure our park rangers have the resources they need to do their jobs. Skimping on budgets can no longer be tolerated.
Our national parks need all of us now just as much as they did when they were created. Join NPCA in our ongoing efforts to protect our parks and empower new advocates to speak up for America's favorite places. Learn more at www.npca.org.
John Adornato is the Sun Coast Senior Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association