Interior Secretary visits Smoky Mountains, discusses funding for National Parks

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday to mark the National Park Service's 101st birthday. He also discussed funding for national parks and his thoughts on the Gatlinburg wildfires. 

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday to mark the 101st anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.

Zinke hiked the Rainbow Falls Trail with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Friday morning along with volunteers and the Youth Corps, who are rehabilitating the trail.

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"Today we're with a group of talented young people helping us manage our parks," Zinke said.

GSMNP has more than $200 million in maintenance backlogs. That's one of the reasons why the Secretary said he wants more funding for national parks.

"We're looking at prioritizing and delivering more money on the front line, where I think it belongs, more money for our rangers," Zinke said, adding roads and infrastructure to that list.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visits the Great Smoky Mountains on Aug. 25, 2017.

The Secretary said he doesn't believe the backlog necessarily contributed to the fires in Gatlinburg last year, but he did say he wants to give foresters more authority to better manage dead and dying trees. He also said he wants to take a look at communication and evacuation plans.

Zinke said the Department of Interior will release its report about the Gatlinburg fires shortly.

"Making sure we caught and captured the right tone, the right information, did we leave anything out, and I think overall the report was good," Secretary Zinke said.

MORE: Draft of NPS report on Chimney Tops 2 fire complete

Alexander praised the Secretary for visiting Gatlinburg for the report.

"I appreciate his doing that," Alexander said. "Wanting to get a first hand understanding of the impact that horrific event had here."

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander visits the Smokies with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Aug. 25, 2017. 

The Senator said he hopes the Secretary and President Trump can work together to give more funding to the parks. The Secretary said he’s been talking to the President about his plans.

"Our parks is not a partisan issue, this is an American Issue," Zinke said. "And if there’s one thing we can come together on, I’m hoping it’s funding our parks."

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Friday afternoon, Zinke was set to visit the Pisgah Inn on top of Mt. Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rainbow Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo courtesy GSMNP.