Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, bipartisan group push for passage of bill to fix national parks

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) In this May 5, 2015, photo hikers walk on the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park. The crowded park remains highly popular even though it has a maintenance backlog now estimated at $65 million. Utah Rep. Rob Bishop is among a growing group in Congress pushing for millions needed to fix and repair trails, roads and structures in America's national parks.

Washington • A bipartisan group of members of Congress, including Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, pushed for passage Wednesday of a measure aimed at pouring millions into tackling a decades-old, multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog at America’s national parks.

The Restore Our Parks Act, which stalled in the last Congress despite wide support, would funnel money raised from royalties on oil and gas production on federal lands to help repair trails, roads, sewer systems and aging buildings.

The National Park Service estimated the maintenance backlog at $13 billion, with about $292 million of that at Utah’s Mighty Five national parks. Zion National Park alone has $65 million in needed maintenance.

“We have a solution. We have a problem,” Bishop said Wednesday at a news conference aimed at drawing more co-sponsors and action. “It matches wonderfully and this is going to be a bicameral, bipartisan approach to it.”

The bill was introduced in the Senate and House last session and while the House Natural Resources Committee advanced the legislation, it didn’t get a full vote in either chamber. Supporters are hopeful the burgeoning number of co-sponsors will mean the chamber’s leaders will put it forward soon.

There are 208 sponsors of the bill in the House and 36 in the Senate.

Neither of Utah’s Republican senators, Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, is sponsoring the bill as of Wednesday. In the House, Utah GOP Reps. Chris Stewart and John Curtis back the bill, while Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, has yet to sign on.

“We have the planet on loan. We don’t own it,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “We have it for a period of years and we pass it on to our children and our grandchildren and we have a responsibility to pass it on and in as good a shape as we found it. And with our parks, we’re failing that responsibility. And so that’s why I think this bill is so important.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said it’s unfortunate the country has not lived up to its obligation to preserve its treasured lands.

“And you know we have some incredible national park service units” in New Mexico, he said. “One that’s very well known is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. And people are using the freight elevator to get in and out of that because of the needs — the updates that need to happen for the elevators that’s designed to take people out of that national park. That is a travesty.”