Splendid fall colors in national parks can’t mask late repair needs

They say that nature is neither kind nor cruel, just indifferent. But from the annual banquet of colorful leaves and berries on display this month in national parks across the country, it seems Mother Nature likes to show off sometimes, too. Its timing, by the way, is sublime, with large numbers of Americans heading outside in search of a sense of normalcy during a year shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And to help ensure that U.S. parks and public lands continue to be accessible, safe and enjoyable, Congress has also done its part this year. Over the summer, lawmakers passed the Great American Outdoors Act to invest a portion of energy development royalties in long-awaited repairs to our national parks, up to $ 6.65 billion over five years. Soon, the Home Office will identify National Park Service sites that are expected to receive the first installment of these funds in fiscal 2021.

Here are four national parks that are very successful in the fall and that have significant maintenance needs.

Skyline Drive, which was built almost 100 years ago and winds through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, is extremely popular, especially when the beauty of fall is on display.
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Shenandoah national park

Shenandoah National Park, which attracts large numbers of visitors from neighboring Washington, is extremely popular in the fall. Along the 100-year-old 160 km road and dozens of surrounding hiking trails, plants ranging from Virginia creeper to oaks, maples and other towering trees paint the landscape with vibrant fall hues.

Shenandoah’s 2019 list for deferred maintenance totals $ 71 million. More than $ 39 million is needed to cover repairs along Skyline Drive and other roads, but the total also includes work on the park’s water supply systems, buildings and communications system.


Beneath the fall colored canopy of Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio, there are significant deferred maintenance issues. Newly approved funding under the Great American Outdoors Act could address these needs here and throughout the national park system.
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Cuyahoga National Park

When fall peaks in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio, brilliant reds, yellows and oranges create a scene that, combined with the park’s covered bridges and waterfalls, conjures up images of a rustic storybook frame. Visitors enjoy nearly 150 miles of hiking and biking trails, or board the scenic railroad that winds through the park.

These trails and rails are a big part of Cuyahoga’s repair list, which totals $ 56 million.


A waterfall pours down from the El Capitan Formation of Yosemite National Park and into a sparkling fall landscape.
Paul B Moore

Yosemite National Park

In the fall, Yosemite’s aspens, oaks, maples and dogwoods add a seasonal touch among the giant redwoods, other evergreens and towering rock formations of the park. The show usually starts in October and can run until November. With so much to see, it’s no surprise that Yosemite attracted over 4.5 million visitors in 2019.

This popularity weighed on the park’s infrastructure, to the tune of $ 643 million in deferred maintenance. The list of repairs includes roads, buildings, and sewage and water systems.


Tipsoo Lake in Mount Rainier National Park is a must-see destination to experience some of the site’s fall beauty.
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Mount Rainier National Park

Famous for its 14,411-foot snow-capped peak, Mount Rainer National Park in Washington stretches over 12,800 vertical feet, giving visitors months to experience the fall colors. The higher places usually reach their colorful stride in late September or early October, while the valleys often glow for weeks beyond this time. Tipsoo Lake and Paradise Meadows, both located about a quarter of the height of the mountain, are popular places to watch the fall colors compete for attention.

Sadly, many visitors in recent years have also noticed the park’s growing repair needs, which total over $ 208 million. Road maintenance is the biggest problem, with faulty sanitation systems and trail erosion driving up costs.

Nature can indeed be indifferent and the colorful choreography of fall is of course fleeting, but luckily Congress acted this year to ensure lasting improvements to America’s precious national parks. It will take more than a season for the Great American Outdoors Act to show its full effect, but, as with a dazzling fall scene, we hope the outcome will be worth the wait.

Marcia Argust leads the Pew Charitable Trusts campaign to restore America’s parks.

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