Yellowstone
(Photo/Yellowstone National Park)

National Parks to Expand Bike Trails, Greener Transit Options

In a press conference on Nov. 17, Secretaries Deb Haaland and Pete Buttigieg announced an ambitious green overhaul to transportation infrastructure within the nation’s parks.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Transportation announced a joint effort to dramatically expand greener transportation infrastructure within the national parks system. Secretaries Buttigieg and Haaland will draw funds from the sweeping infrastructure bill signed into law by President Biden on Monday.

The broad initiative is also meant to foster greater equity, inclusion, and access to public lands — a recurring focal point for both secretaries.

“When we talk about and plan around access, we must do so with an eye toward equity,” said Haaland during the Nov. 17 press conference. “I look forward to working closely with Secretary Buttigieg and his team to ensure that sustainability and equitable access to parks and public lands remain hallmarks of our work.”

It’s an ambitious, multifaceted, multiyear project that will rely heavily on the allocated budget. Here’s what we know so far.

Expected Improvements to NPS Transit Infrastructure

The improvements and budget allocations are far from cut and dry. According to the departments’ joint Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Transporation Innovation in the National Park System (MOU), the DOI and DOT will work closely with the heads of each national park to create bespoke improvement plans and ensure effective spending of every dollar.

NPS Transportation Project Initiatives

The MOU outlines several priority initiatives, which “may include but are not limited to” the following:

  • Innovative technology pilot programs
  • Shared mobility integration (dockless bikes, e-scooters, rideshare pickup/dropoff zones)
  • Electrification of major transit fleets, including proactive replacement of legacy fleets with zero-emission technology
  • Installation of additional EV charging stations for visitor and official NPS vehicle use
  • Advanced traveler information systems to cut down on congestion and improve visitor experience (mobile access to real-time transit ETAs, road status, and parking availability)

Supporting Actions

As provided within the MOU, the departments will promote the overarching goal “to improve transportation within and access to NPS facilities” by:

  • Providing technical assistance to assess, plan, deploy, and evaluate innovative technologies
  • Leveraging inter-departmental expertise across a range of disciplines for technical assistance
  • Analyzing novel and emerging data sets
  • Establishing temporary interagency or interdepartmental personnel exchanges
  • Developing information exchanges regarding technological change, funding, and policy
  • Facilitating partnerships with other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector

The Infrastructure Investment

Sequoia National Forest park
Sequoia National Forest; (photo/Kusska)

It’s no secret that America’s national parks experienced a substantial uptick in visitors since the spring of 2020. And it’s a trend that shows no signs of mellowing out.

For all the social and psychological benefits gained through this shift to the outdoors, the environmental strain created by increased traffic is a different story. Yellowstone’s visitor headcount is creeping toward 5 million visitors in 2021 alone. That number is edging in on the park’s current transportation capacity.

Last year, Congress approved an annual budget of $1.9 billion for the next 5 years. The budget specifically targets deferred remediation work in national parks, national forests, and public trails that fall under NPS purview.

Biden’s execution of the infrastructure bill this week frees up an additional $1.5 billion for the NPS alone, AP reports. That’s in addition to $200 million in grants that the parks system may use to fund greener initiatives and bolster wildlife protections.

The NPS Transit Infrastructure plan, as led by the DOI and DOT, gets rolling on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

For more information, look to the Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, and National Park Service websites.

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Jilli Cluff
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Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas, where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.