SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will soon be able to get to work on some maintenance issues due to federal funding approved in recent bi-partisan legislation. The Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law by President Trump on Tuesday, Aug. 4., will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide up to $9.5 billion “to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands” in the next five years.
Cassius Cash, Great Smoky Mountains National Park superintendent, said, “We are grateful for this opportunity to address longstanding maintenance needs in the Smokies. We are standing at the ready with a project list in hand and a plan to efficiently put these funds to good use in the Smokies. And, I can assure you that we’ll make the most of every dollar.”
Park officials noted there are more than $200 million in maintenance needs with the greatest being water treatment/wastewater systems, administrative and public buildings, and transportation corridors (roads, bridges, and tunnels). A total of 13 water and wastewater systems in the Park, installed between 1940-60, have been deemed in need of a full replacement at an estimated cost of over $41 million.
The Park’s roadways – including over 300 miles of roads, six tunnels, and 146 bridges – are also in need of repair said officials who noted that could run over $162 million. Officials also noted that the Park’s maintenance and administrative buildings, most of which were built in the 1950s, need repair or replacement at an estimated cost of over $67 million.
Another building being looked at for replacement is the Sugarlands Visitor Center which Park officials note was built in a by-gone era when annual visitation was between 5 to 6 million people. According to the National Park Service, over 12.5 million people visited the Park last year. A new facility is estimated to cost around $25 million.
“The facility does not provide enough space to adequately provide opportunities for people to receive information for trip planning and to learn about Park resources,” said Dana Soehn, Park spokesperson. “A new visitor center is estimated to cost approximately $25 million and would be designed to serve visitors into the next century.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) in a statement, “North Carolina is home to some of the most beautiful national parks including the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I am proud to have co-sponsored this bipartisan legislation and get it signed into law so we can preserve our parks and allow our kids and grandkids to enjoy them in their best form.”
Conservation groups praised the bill as well.
“You cannot overstate the importance of this bill and what it will mean for national parks, public lands, and communities across the country,” Theresa Pierson, National Parks Conservation Association president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This is the largest investment our country has made in our national parks and public lands in more than 50 years, and it comes not a moment too soon.”
She added, “With this passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, our parks’ crumbling roads, decaying buildings, and outdated water systems will be fixed, more than 100,000 people will have much-needed jobs, and every American, no matter where they live, will have more access to outdoor spaces. This bill is a conservationist’s dream.”