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During ND visit, interior secretary focuses on maintenance backlog at national parks

From left, North Dakota Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Wendy Ross and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are pictured at the Peaceful Valley Ranch at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park on Tuesday, May 22. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)1 / 3
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the Peaceful Valley Ranch, which sits in the heart of the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on Tuesday, May 22. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)2 / 3
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the Peaceful Valley Ranch, which sits in the heart of the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on Tuesday morning. He is pictured with Park Superintendent Wendy Ross. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)3 / 3

MEDORA, N.D.—The drive through the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park may take a few minutes longer than normal as the park begins 3 miles worth of construction on its entry road.

The road construction is just one of hundreds of projects that make up the $11.6 billion worth of backlogged maintenance and repair needs for the more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings that service national park visitors across the country.

On Tuesday, May 22, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park to discuss the maintenance backlog at the park. The National Park Service estimates that as of 2017, there is nearly $50 million in deferred maintenance needs at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The road maintenance project is estimated to cost about $6 million.

Zinke, a former Montana senator, toured the Peaceful Valley Ranch with Park Superintendent Wendy Ross and Gov. Doug Burgum. The ranch is a former "dude ranch" that is on the National Register of Historic Places but became in disrepair over time. The ranch is in the midst of a $4.3 million rehabilitation project.

"We're looking at this historic dude ranch as the perfect place to have an environmental education center," Ross said. "It's in the heart of the park where we can connect to those ideas that Theodore Roosevelt brought and thought in this area."

In 2017, 330 million people visited the 417 National Park Service sites across the U.S. The Park Service retired over $650 million in maintenance and repair work in 2017, but aging facilities, increased visitation, and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010.

While Congress regularly provides funds for construction, ongoing and deferred maintenance, the fiscal year 2019 budget includes a proposal to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund that would, on a much larger scale, help address deferred maintenance needs in the National Park System, Jeremy Barnum, chief spokesperson and chief of public affairs for the Park Service said in an email Tuesday.

The proposed ​bill, introduced in March, would​ use up to $18 billion in revenue derived from energy produced on federal lands and waters to​ establish a special fund specifically for "National Park Restoration" over the next 10 years.

"We want to make sure that we focus on rebuilding our parks," Zinke said. "The president is a builder. He loves the idea of rebuilding."

Zinke said addressing the park maintenance backlog has been needed for quite some time, stretching back multiple administrations.

"If you're going to create wealth through energy on federal land, then you too should have an obligation to help to conserve it," he said. "I can give you 11.7 billion reasons why it's time to do it. ... It's not Republicans or Democrats that enjoy national parks, it's America. In a divided world you would think that providing a priority for our park system would be a uniting message."

Zinke will also be giving remarks at the Williston Basin Conference in Bismarck on Wednesday, May 23, as the conference's keynote speaker.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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