Maine Voices: Acadia celebrates landmark investment in nature

Next Thursday, August 4, marks the third anniversary of landmark bipartisan conservation legislation that provided much-needed maintaining critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and recreation areas—all of which generate billions of dollars in private sector economic activity.

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), passed by Congress in 2020, is the largest investment in public lands in US history. It directs up to $1.9 billion each year over five years into the National Parks and Public Lands Restoration Fund to address the backlog of infrastructure repair and maintenance projects on our public lands, and also invests in schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education.

Congress should remain proud of this historic investment in protecting and maintaining our national parks and recreation areas. Now halfway through its five-year implementation period, GAOA has helped the National Park Service take care of significant infrastructure projects, including major repairs to the Blue Ridge Parkway and replacement or upgrades of water and wastewater treatment systems in the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. to name a few.

Acadia National Park has also benefited from this funding. Since the investment began, Acadia has received more than $7.5 million in funding to rehabilitate water and sewer systems at Schoodic Point and more than $26 million to replace the Park Headquarters Maintenance Facility, a facility grossly inadequate as an arboriculture center. automotive repair, welding, plumbing and electrical work in Acadia National Park, not to mention the planning, design and supervision of all infrastructure projects. The existing maintenance building has a structural crack that runs its length and a single bathroom for 60 year-round and seasonal employees. Park maintenance crews decided it would be more expensive to maintain the current structure than replace it.

Acadia National Park’s needs don’t end there. Acadia maintains about $1 billion worth of infrastructure: 214 buildings, 153 miles of trails, 71 housing units, six campgrounds, 82 miles of unpaved roads (including historic roads), 17 water systems and 18 wastewater systems. That’s a huge burden to support while being efficient and respectful of taxpayers’ money. Future GAOA projects could include rehabilitating the former Navy hulls at the Schoodic Education and Research Center, repairing or replacing the Jordan Pond House facilities, and renovating the Bass Harbor Light.

While infrastructure projects like these may not excite park visitors, they are critical to ensuring that visitors and staff are safe and have an enjoyable experience when visiting our public lands.

Years of limited funding have degraded the National Park Service’s ability to maintain park infrastructure. Friends of Acadia is grateful to Congress for recognizing the need and acting on a significant investment in national park infrastructure in 2020.

My organization, Friends of Acadia, is pleased to enhance this work through donations from our endowment and donor-designated funds to preserve Acadia’s trails and roads, maintain historic buildings, and prepare for the effects of climate change. But this will require a sustained and strengthened public-private partnership for years to come.

Please join us in celebrating the anniversary of the Great American Outdoor Act on August 4th. Entrance fees will be waived in Acadia National Park and all lands managed by the Department of the Interior. Also, be sure to thank Maine’s congressional delegation for their involvement in passing this landmark legislation and share with them the importance of continuing these significant investments to ensure that Acadia and other national parks are maintained so they can to be enjoyed by future generations.

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