Erroll G. Williams has served as Assessor of Orleans Parish for more than 30 years. He continues to hunt and fish in Louisiana and the Gulf South. As a young man, he worked at Yellowstone through a special college opportunities program.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) this week, I can’t help but reminisce about my earlier days working with the National Park Service in Wyoming. Part of my job was to monitor the trails in Yellowstone and make the necessary repairs to ensure their safety for park visitors.
This was a formative experience in my life—one that instilled in me a great sense of pride to serve our nation’s parks, and later, helped me realize the vital importance of maintaining these resources for future generations. To this day, I still consider myself an avid outdoorsman—although at this stage in my life, those experiences are largely confined to my rod and reel.
Louisiana has long enjoyed the economic, recreational, and cultural benefits of its contributions to the National Park System. Our state is home to five national parks, including Poverty Point, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, and Cane River Creole National Historical Park. Louisiana also boasts 54 national historical landmarks and more than 1,300 historical places on the National Register.
These sites highlight our state’s rich cultural and natural diversity. Because of this, more than half a million people visit Louisiana’s national parks annually, generating $28.6 million from tourism. Yet, despite their obvious importance, they are in dire need of repair.
Nationally, years of unreliable congressional funding has resulted in an estimated $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog, and this number is growing. The backlog reaches our state as well, and totals over $15.1 million in delayed repairs that negatively affect visitor services and impede the NPS’ ability to interpret our national history.
When historic, cultural, or natural areas become inaccessible or unsafe, teachers and historians can’t interpret important history. Outdoor recreationists such as boaters, backpackers, and hikers can’t enjoy natural resources. And when local, out-of-state or foreign visitors can’t visit, tourist dollars can’t flow into communities like ours, harming businesses and residents throughout the region.
As we celebrate the NPS’ centennial birthday, we must ensure the National Park System has the necessary resources to properly maintain and interpret its natural, historic, and cultural treasures, so future generations may enjoy and learn from them for the next 100 years.
Contact your representatives today and encourage them to support dedicated federal funding to address the infrastructure repair backlog within the Park System. It’s a birthday wish we all should make to protect America’s, and Louisiana’s, legacy.