Approved by the Infrastructure and Research Policy Committee on April 28, 2022
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on June 1, 2022
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2022
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports immediate and sustained action to reinvest in the deteriorating infrastructure of America’s parks, monuments, battlefields, and other preserves including recreation facilities controlled by federal, state, and local agencies. This action should consider both protection of our national heritage and enhancement of the experience of park visitors.
- Applying judiciously the principle of "the beneficiary pays" by charging appropriate user fees at the local, state, and federal levels and allowing those agencies to use all collected user fees to support maintenance, operations, and enhancements to their park systems.
- Enacting legislation to permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to retain all collected recreation fees for use at its facilities.
- Fully funding the Great American Outdoors Act, which creates a dedicated fund to address the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion and permanently and fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
- Renegotiating franchise fees with concessionaires upon contract renewal of park and recreation facilities to increase revenues to support operation and maintenance of facilities.
- Leveraging partnerships between the National Park Service and other recreation facility operators and private groups to better utilize assets and appropriately compensate for usage.
- Developing urban parks for dual use such as recreation facilities, and stormwater management, and others.
- Ensuring parks facilities and programs are accessible by making the parks walkable and bikeable, making public transit accessible, and making the parks accommodating to those of all ages, incomes, abilities, and community-specific needs.
Our system of parks, monuments, battlefields, and other preserves, including recreation facilities are available for present and future Americans. These facilities allow everyone to enjoy the rich environmental, cultural, and historical heritage of our nation. At the federal level, the National Park System consists of more than 419 units covering more than 85 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories. The National Park System hosted more than 327 million visitors in 2019, more than 13% higher than a decade ago.
Americans regularly enjoy park and recreation facilities maintained by entities at all levels of government. At the federal level, the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are the main custodians of park facilities. State parks and recreation areas cover nearly 14 million acres and served nearly 807 million visits in 2017, more than twice as many as federal parks. City parks have the highest visitation rates, with over 60 parks receiving in excess of 1 million visitors a year. Local and regional parks are typically easily accessible, year-round facilities that provide tangible benefits to communities including improved public health and welfare.
ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s public parks and recreation facilities a D+. In 2017, people spent $887 billion on outdoor recreation, directly supporting 7.6 million jobs. There are about 10 acres of public park land per 1,000 residents. Despite their increased popularity, investment in parks is lagging, resulting in deteriorating bridges, trails, parking areas, drinking water systems, and more. State parks and local parks face a $5.6 billion and $60 billion deferred maintenance backlog, respectively. While the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog grew over 9% in the last decade with more than half of their assets in need of repair, federal funding for parks is set to increase with passage of the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020. Meanwhile, limited space in urban areas is causing local governments, utilities, and nonprofits to be more creative by building parks projects that provide mutually beneficial functions, such as public access spaces that also serve as flood control.
The historic lack of investment has resulted in the deterioration of our parks and recreation infrastructure. Such neglect may lead to a reduction in the public health and welfare. Federal agencies, states, and localities continue to struggle for the necessary funds to invest in parks amid flat and declining budgets.
ASCE Policy Statement 503
First Approved in 2003