A campaign by the Pew Charitable Trust to raise awareness of eroding infrastructure at national parks recently swung through Cortez.
Restore America's Parks aims to address an estimated $11.3 billion worth of deferred maintenance needs across 400 national park units, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report.
Colorado's 12 national parks and monuments have racked up $277.2 million in backlog maintenance needs, based on fiscal year 2016.
Mesa Verde National Park reports $65.7 million in maintenance needs that have been delayed because of budget constraints. Howenweep National Monument lists $255,000 in backlogged repairs, and Yucca House National Monument lists $125,000.
The National Park Service, citing aging facilities, increased visitation and unreliable funding, hasn't kept pace with infrastructure repairs, campaign organizer Michael Dabbs said during an Aug. 18 meeting at the WildEdge Brewing Collective in downtown Cortez.
"Whether it's trails or roads, waterlines or wastewater systems, there is a lot that needs fixing. The longer we kick the can down the road, the more it will cost," Dabbs said. "Many park facilities are 50 to 70 years old."
Park upkeep is critical to sustain economic benefits for gateway communities like Cortez, Mancos and Durango, which rely on Mesa Verde National Park for tourism and jobs, added Terri Paul, of the Mesa Verde Museum Association.
"Our visitation keeps going up and up, and backlog needs to be addressed to make sure visitors have a good experience," she said.
A total of 7 million visitors to national parks in Colorado spent an estimated $485 million in gateway communities in 2016, according to the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent public interest group. Restore America's Parks is a Pew project.
"We don't want to risk losing visitors because the bathrooms are broken or the roads are crumbling or, in Mesa Verde's case, because ruins are closed due to lack of funding for proper maintenance," Dabbs said.
According to Mesa Verde, deferred maintenance at the park in 2016 included about $7 million for buildings, $2.3 million for housing, $3.9 million for trails, $1.9 million for wastewater systems, $7.8 million for water systems, $1.3 million for unpaved roads, $29 million for paved roads and $12.1 million for miscellaneous work. Of the deferred $65.7 million, $15 million in maintenance is considered critical.
Mesa Verde's deferred maintenance needs are second-highest in Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park reported $75 million in deferred maintenance.
Restore America's Parks depends on Congress to help fund the backlog, organizers said.
One possible legislative solution is the National Park Service Legacy Act, introduced in March. The bipartisan bill would provide annual funding for national park maintenance, funded with unallocated revenue from onshore and offshore production of oil, gas, coal and minerals.
Dabbs implored residents to pressure U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner to increase park funding.
"Tell them to support dedicated federal funding to address infrastructure needs at our national parks," he said. "The public deserves this investment, and park visitation is really critical for many Colorado communities."
A summary of deferred maintenance by park and state is available online at bit.ly/2gM11Oh