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Congress should fund Crater Lake maintenance

Southern Oregon loves Crater Lake. It is an amazing wild area for residents to explore and a place of such renowned beauty that it attracted over 755,000 visitors last year alone. While it may be difficult to measure the significant cultural impact of Crater Lake on our region and our state, the economic impacts are clear and profound.

According to the National Park Service, visitors to Crater Lake spent an estimated $65.3 million in local gateway regions while visiting the park in 2016. That spending supported over 1,000 jobs, providing $89.4 million in economic output in local gateway economies such as Medford.

In short, our beloved Crater Lake is an economic engine for Southern Oregon and it is important that we take the steps necessary to make sure that the park can continue to serve in that role, particularly as visitation increases. However, Crater Lake has a backlog of important maintenance projects that total more than $85 million.

Businesses and homeowners know the ongoing struggle of keeping up with repairs. Now magnify that to a park the size of Crater Lake and you can begin to get a handle on the challenge. Outstanding, or deferred, maintenance projects include roads, visitor buildings, trails, water systems, bridges, and more. The backlog is a result of aging infrastructure, increased wear and tear from record visitation, and unreliable congressional funding. This is a problem facing the entire National Park Service, which is facing a whopping $11.3 billion backlog systemwide.

The backlog is a problem that must be addressed. If your roof needs repair but you continue to put it off, eventually you will lose the roof. If infrastructure critical to a safe and enjoyable visitor experience at Crater Lake is lost, we may, in turn, lose visitors and the economic benefits they bring to local businesses and communities.

We believe Congress and the administration have a responsibility to invest in national park infrastructure to ensure our national treasures are maintained and preserved for future generations.

If they do act, it could actually create more jobs for our region. A 2017 study, “Restoring Parks, Creating Jobs: Infrastructure Restoration in the National Park System Can Create Jobs,” commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts and conducted by the independent firm Cadmus Group, found that more than 1,000 jobs could be created or supported in Oregon if funds were invested to resolve the NPS maintenance backlog. These jobs could likely benefit contractors and tradespeople in communities adjacent to Crater Lake, which, by far, has the most deferred maintenance needs out of any Oregon national park.

This seems like a no-brainer. Helping preserve Crater Lake for future generations will create jobs and economic growth in the present.

We encourage Reps. Greg Walden and Peter DeFazio, and Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to lead the charge in Congress to make sure the National Park Service has the funds and certainty necessary to keep its crown jewels like Crater Lake open for business. An investment in Crater Lake is a contribution to our regional and state economy and one that, through past experience, we know will pay off.

— Bill Thorndike is president of the Crater Lake National Park Trust. Brad Hicks is CEO of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.