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Study: National Parks Face $11B Maintenance Backlog

Projects Delayed At Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

Devil's Island lighthouse
Courtesy of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

A recent study finds national parks are facing an $11 billion maintenance backlog. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway are among those with projects in need of attention.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is home to nine lighthouses — the most in any national park. National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said keeping up these historic structures is a challenge, especially when the park’s roughly $3 million budget has remained flat for more than a decade.

“The needs go up. The money doesn’t. When you have old buildings or you have facilities like docks on Lake Superior or even trails on these islands, they do need regular maintenance,” he said. “We simply don’t have the ability to do all the regular maintenance that’s needed in order to keep up with it.”

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The park received funding from Congress in 2009 and 2010 to improve the condition of some of the most vital assets in the Apostle Islands, Krumenaker said. As a result, maintenance costs have dropped slightly, but he said the park still has around $8 million worth of projects on the back burner. Krumenaker noted at least two large maintenance issues related to damage from a storm this past fall, including a trail that completely eroded and cut off access to the lighthouse on Sand Island.

“Over on Devil’s Island, the historic boathouse at the south end, which is a really important piece of the history of that island but doesn’t have any actual use other than we appreciate the history there, that was battered so badly it’s not clear that it’ll even be standing in the spring,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to get the funding to restore that.”

The Apostle Islands compete with other parks nationwide for National Park Service funding to address issues. The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, located in eastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, also competes for federal funding. National Park Superintendent Julie Galonska said they have a maintenance backlog of $1.4 million with an annual budget of around $3.9 million.

“In a park like the Riverway, it can be as simple as campsite maintenance, as river landing maintenance, boat launch maintenance — all that needs to come up on a regular cycle,” she said. “Then, there tends to be bigger projects. These are just generic examples of like a heating and cooling — an HVAC system — in one of our buildings.”

John Madden, superintendent of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, said they have some areas of the trail and buildings that need to be maintained. However, he said they fair better than parks across the system because they have don’t have the roads and buildings many have to maintain.

“It’s not as big a problem for us. We have it managed,” he said.

Madden added that the partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Ice Age Trail Alliance and National Park Service has also allowed them to pool resources for trail maintenance.

Nationwide, more than $11 billion would be needed to repair 42,000 properties, according to the study commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts. More than half that cost is related to road and building maintenance.

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