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January 31, 2018 | last updated February 1, 2018 1:32 pm

King confirmed as ranking member on Senate subcommittee on National Parks

Courtesy / Office of Sen. Angus King
Courtesy / Office of Sen. Angus King
In a hearing of the National Parks Subcommittee, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, uses his cell phone to highlight the ease of purchasing a digital park pass through a pilot program he supported.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week confirmed U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, as the ranking member of the National Parks Subcommittee.

In a corresponding move, he was removed from Water and Power Subcommittee, both as ranking member and as member.

A key driver of Maine's tourism economy is Acadia National Park, the eighth most-visited of the nation's 59 full-fledged national parks, which drew just under 3.5 million visitors by November 2017, eclipsing 2016's record-setting number of 3.3 million for the entire year.

King has been particularly active on issues related to Acadia and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which both fall under the subcommittee's jurisdiction.

Last May he urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to let the Katahdin Woods and Waters Monument stand, citing concerns that the Interior Department's review was having "economically chilling effect" on the local economy.

He also recently wrote a letter with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to the Interior Department in response to a proposal to nearly triple the cost of entrance at Acadia, noting that this change could decrease visitors to the park. The two senators urged the department to seek other options for addressing the maintenance backlog that currently sits at almost $12 billion.

Additionally, last year King and Collins introduced legislation to ensure that traditional uses of the intertidal zones near Acadia are protected, including the harvesting of clams and worms, an activity that has fueled the local economy for generations. The bill also clarifies concerns on park boundary survey errors and makes permanent the Acadia National Park Advisory Committee. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine District 2, advocated similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, where its Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the bill and passed it with unanimous support. The next step is a vote in the House, which Poliquin is strongly pushing.

During his tenure in the Senate, King pushed for modernizations that make the parks more accessible to the future generation, including the implementation of a pilot program that makes entrance passes for parks available online and was lauded in a subcommittee hearing last year. The program has been particularly successful in Acadia National Park, which accounts for 72% of total sales in the pilot program.

Overall, online purchases accounted for 10% of the park's total entrance fee receipts in 2016.

"For more than a century, national parks have been passed from generation to generation, as each new age group takes on the hallowed responsibility to protect parks for those who come next," King said in a news release. "From the sheer size of the Grand Canyon and the dramatic waterfalls of Yosemite to the wildlife of Yellowstone and the majesty of Acadia in my own backyard, these treasured public lands are the continuation of a promise made generations ago — a promise that continues with us. I'm honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to play a leading role in the Senate's efforts to encourage new techniques and technologies to preserve these sites for the future."

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