My Turn: Alaska’s National Parks Need Infrastructure Support

Juneau Empire
Thursday, January 19, 2017
 
by Jeff Samuels, SCA Alaska Partnership Director
 
In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its centennial anniversary. 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Denali National Park, one of the many crown jewels in Alaska’s collection of our national parks. These parks represent the very best and most treasured public lands in our country. As we hear about badly needed infrastructure improvements to our roads, bridges and utilities nationwide, it’s important to remember that our national parks are not immune to these challenges. Denali National Park alone faces an infrastructure repair backlog to roads and facilities of $53 million.
 
Nationwide, our National Park System is looking at an infrastructure repair backlog to the tune of $12 billion. The longer that we wait to make these repairs, the more costly and extensive the repairs will be and our public lands infrastructure will continue to suffer.
 
The Student Conservation Association has for 60 years pursued its mission of “creating the next generation of conservation leaders.” We do so by providing youth and young adults with internship and volunteer opportunities on our public lands. Our founder, Liz Putnam, identified a need in the 1950s to provide low-cost project solutions to federal land management agencies while offering career pathways to young Americans interested in land stewardship and conservation. Much of what we do is essential land stewardship work that the Park Service does not have the budget to pay a full-time employee to do. 
 
Here in Alaska, we field several work crews and place individuals into internships at national parks across the state, providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to over 250 diverse young adults from instate and the Lower 48 to explore careers in land management.
 
As Alaskans, we are proud of our natural lands and wide open spaces. We are fortunate to have such attractive national parks that bring sustainable tourism dollars into the pockets of local businesses and individuals each year. In 2015, national park visitors to the state contributed $1.2 billion to our economy. As we face an ever shrinking budget and state provided services in Alaska, these tourism dollars mean more than ever.