National parks get $750 million in federal economic stimulus money Wednesday to chip into a to-do list that includes repairing historic buildings, constructing new trails and increasing renewable energy use from Independence Hall in Philadelphia to Yosemite in California.
“This is probably the most significant investment made in more than a generation,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in an interview before the Earth Day announcement.
More than 750 projects in 48 states are expected to create 30,000 to 40,000 jobs starting this summer. That includes 15,000 jobs in a 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps.
Though smaller in scale than the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, which opened camps for young men who built trails and campgrounds still in use, Salazar says the Depression program is an inspiration to “resurrect the treasures of America.”
The stimulus funds won’t clear the National Park Service’s $9 billion maintenance backlog, says spokesman David Barna, but they will pay for long-deferred projects at many iconic sites:
• Independence Hall, birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and Constit-ution, will get nearly $5.5 million to repair its crumbling tower and replace a weathervane, clocks and masonry.
• Ellis Island in New York Harbor will get $26.1 million to repair a sea wall and stabilize the 1908 baggage and dormitory building.
• The Old Courthouse in St. Louis will get nearly $5 million to replace a leaky roof that has damaged seven rooms. The site of the pivotal Dred Scott slavery trial that hastened the Civil War is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and “almost as much of an icon as the Gateway Arch itself,” park superintendent Tom Bradley says.
• Shenandoah National Park in Virginia will get nearly $9.5 million to reconstruct stone walls and wood guardrails.
The stimulus package includes $14 million for solar panels at 26 national parks. Yosemite expects its $5.6 million project to pare electricity costs 10 percent. Zion National Park in Utah will get 20 percent of its power from solar energy once panels are installed.
Big Bend in Texas, Glacier in Montana, Grand Canyon in Arizona and Rock Creek in Washington, D.C., are among parks slated for trail repair.