Hurd on the Hill: Preserving America’s national parks, public lands

Up until I was 20 years old, the only thing that came to my mind when I thought of nature was a painful jellyfish sting I received as a kid during my family’s only summer vacation. It was our first time heading to the beach. Needless to say, I stayed away from the ocean for some time after that experience. It wasn’t until I was 20 years old — when I went white-water rafting in Colorado — that my appreciation for nature changed.

Sadly, I didn’t come to understand the true meaning of “nature” until decades later when I became the Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. I didn’t know I would come to represent eight unique, beautiful national parks and historic sites.

800,000 acres, peaks up to nearly 8,000 feet high, canyons and rivers spanning miles, nearly 1,300 plant species, 75 animal species, 450 birds, 3,600 insects, 56 reptiles and the vast Chihuahuan Desert. This is what I have been fighting to protect since becoming your congressman.

These numbers alone don’t quantify the impact a park like Big Bend has on the millions of visitors who have made their way to West Texas for three quarters of a century. To describe Big Bend as just a park doesn’t do it justice. It’s a natural wonder, and it must remain beautiful and accessible for future generations and beyond — that’s just one piece of it. From the historic San Antonio Missions, all the way to the breathtaking Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas, preserving national parks is personal, and it’s not just personal to me.

This month, my colleagues and I came together in a bipartisan manner to advocate for our parks and historic sites by passing the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that will address backlogged park repairs and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

To put this into perspective, in 2017 alone, national parks in Texas faced $167 million in backlogged maintenance projects, including road repairs, visitor facilities, leaking plumbing and other park structures. Over $100 million of this backlog was from Big Bend, with another $7 million from Amistad, $6.4 million from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, $2.8 million from Fort Davis National Historic Site and $6.9 million from the San Antonio Missions. While Congress has taken measures to chip away at this mountain of projects, passing the Great American Outdoors Act is a critical step towards permanently addressing these overdue backlogs while ensuring our national parks are protected long into the future beyond this year and the next.

The Great American Outdoors Act provides $900 million in funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund each year and invests $1.9 billion for the next five years in deferred maintenance projects administered by the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education. This bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to report on the financial progress of the deferred maintenance projects for each specified agency.

America’s national parks and public lands are an integral part of our country’s history, and we have a duty to preserve their natural beauty and resources. The best way we can care for them is to ensure they are around long enough to inspire others for years to come. As a national park enthusiast and co-chair of the National Park Caucus, I am committed to protecting and conserving these American jewels.

With the bipartisan passage of the Great American Outdoors Act last week, we have prioritized the future of our national parks. These parks are more than just a destination, they are magnificent places that represent our culture, our history and our future.

A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where he is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness, and the House Committee on Appropriations, where he serves on the Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.


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