This year we mark the 101st anniversary of the National Parks Service, and this week we celebrate National Park Week. They are both reminders of the role our national park system plays in our states and in our communities. In 2016, our national parks generated 331 million visits, 3 million of which were right here in Maine at Acadia National Park — one of America’s most iconic and most visited parks, and part of the reason Maine is dubbed “Vacationland.”

Acadia’s value is not limited to the Downeast region, though. Its value extends across the state through the millions of visitors who come to discover Acadia’s beauty and find their way along the Maine coastline from York to Bar Harbor and inland from the western mountains to Aroostook’s farmland. Those 3 million visitors in 2016 spent more than $275 million across our state, supporting more than 4,500 jobs and having an overall economic impact of more than $380 million.

Tourism is Maine’s top industry and, as such positively affects all aspects of Maine’s economy. It’s not just hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions that profit. Real estate agents, car salespeople, farmers, hardware store owners and landscapers, to name a few, all benefit from our strong tourism industry even though they are not in professions directly associated with tourism. When visitors generate $6 billion in sales and $600,000 in taxes, the entire state benefits.

We should not forget, however, that our national parks are now a century old, which means their infrastructure is aging and in some instances even crumbling. These parks represent our heritage, and often tell the story of our history. From the battlefields of Gettysburg to the vast expanse of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the parks represent America at its finest. Therefore, we need to make a commitment to ensure these iconic structures of America are maintained for future generations to enjoy.

There is a backlog of $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance for the parks system that needs immediate action. At Acadia alone this figure is between $60 million and $70 million each year. Just as any business would commit to maintaining the equipment that generates its revenue, Congress must commit to maintaining the funding but just as importantly maintaining the invaluable societal contributions these parks play within our communities.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have long recognized the importance of properly maintaining the parks, and have championed the need for a sustainable funding stream though legislation that would dedicate existing money within the Department of the Treasury to address the ongoing needs of the parks without raising fees.

It is nearly impossible to put a price tag on our history and natural resources. Remember that this summer when you pack the car and head out for a day or a few days in Bar Harbor and stop along the way at your favorite shop, restaurant or bed and breakfast.

Acadia is more than just one of the most beautiful spots in America — it is a big part of the economic tourism engine that drives Maine and gives our state the beauty and originality for which it is known.

Chris Fogg is CEO of the Maine Tourism Association in Hallowell.

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