Recently, my family and I had the privilege of touring some of Ohio’s most historic sites—the Dayton home and shop of the Wright Brothers. It was inspiring for all of us to see where two Ohio brothers who changed the world forever worked and lived an otherwise ordinary life. Thanks to the National Park Service, these unique interpretive sites are being preserved for generations to come.
This August will mark one century that the National Park Service has been keeping America beautiful. In Ohio, we are blessed with 13 National Park Service sites, including Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is one of the top 10 most popular National Parks in the country. We are also home to nearly 4,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, two national heritage areas, and 72 national historic landmarks.
I’m proud to be one of the 2.6 million annual visitors to Ohio’s National Parks. I’ve spent time hiking, kayaking, biking, and just exploring some of these Ohio treasures. National parks are great for recreation, but they’re also part of the cultural and historical legacy of America.
Preserving that legacy is demanding, but the Park Service lives up to the challenge every day. They care for 86 million acres of American land and serve 307 million visitors every year. Making that job even harder is a nearly $12 billion backlog in maintenance projects — equal to more than double their total annual funding.
This backlog has only been growing in recent years, up from about $9 billion in 2008. Maintenance of these sites is critical because, if we neglect it, then we risk long-term or even permanent damage to historic sites and environmental preserves that are irreplaceable.
And it’s especially important to Ohio: more than $920 million of the backlog is for sites in the Buckeye state.
Helping our Park Service has long been a priority for me. When I served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, I helped set up the Park Service’s Centennial Initiative, which provided billions of both public and private dollars over the last decade to help achieve new levels of excellence in our national parks.
I’ve continued that effort as a United States Senator. I serve as co-chairman of the Congressional Friends of the National Park Service Centennial, and I am working on a bipartisan basis to ensure that the Park Service has the resources it needs to preserve these Ohio treasures for future generations. For my efforts, in 2012, I received the Centennial Leadership Award from the National Parks Conservation Association, and in the summer of 2015, I received the Bruce Vento Public Service Award from the National Park Trust.
Last month, during National Parks Week, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill I authored — the National Park Service Centennial Act — to help ensure the Park Service is well-positioned for its second century. The bill would formally set up two funds.
The first—the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund — will use matching private funds to finance signature National Park projects and programs. This fund has already leveraged $25 million in federal dollars into an additional $45 million in matching funds from the private sector. The second fund is a non-profit Second Century Endowment Fund at the National Park Foundation to reduce the increasing backlog of projects waiting to be completed. The bill would also create a National Park Service education program to help further the Park Service’s educational mission.
We can make the Park Service’s second century just as successful as its first, but in order to do that, we need the right policies in Washington. I am working in the United States Senate to ensure that the America which our grandchildren inherit will be just as beautiful as it is today. Because, as one of my heroes, President Teddy Roosevelt put it, “we have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio.