The motto on the National Park Service’s website is “Experience Your America,” but visitors to many parks in the coming weeks and months may find their experience lacking, thanks to sequester cuts. On March 1st, the much-dreaded sequester took effect and set off a series of budget cuts totaling $85 billion. From Yellowstone to Cape Cod, the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains, the national heritage is at risk. The terms of the sequestration require the National Park System to cut 5 percent, or $134 million, from its overall budget. This is quite severe for the parks because these cuts are coming half-way through the year after part of their yearly budget has already been spent and would be in effect at the start of the summer season when parks are typically increasing their staffing and costs of operations to meet the demand of summer tourists. Some immediate impacts include a three-week delay in the spring opening of Yellowstone, closures of some national visitors centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a $1.6 million cut to the National Mall’s budget before next month’s popular Cherry Blossom Festival.
So what does this mean for your favorite park? Since each park receives its own budget, each park must cut 5 percent of its spending. Solutions will most likely mean fewer jobs, educational programs, reduced cleaning of bathroom and other facilities, fewer visitor centers and visitor access points. For Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga, cutting access to the park was not an option even as he had to find $1.06 million to drop from the budget. “We have less supplies, less equipment, less travel, less overtime and yet the public demand has never been higher, We have this incredible resource to protect; we have almost 4.5 million people coming; we want to do well, and yet we don’t have all the resources” Uberuaga said.For parks who have more wiggle room such as the Independence National History Park and Gettysburg National Military Park, interactive educational and ranger programs will be cut and interpretive sites will be closed this spring, impacting 2,400 students and 84,000 visitors.
Aside from inconvenience to visitors, these cutbacks pose significant economic impacts. A report from the NPS states that in 2011, $30.1 billion was generated by visitors to the national parks, thus supporting 252,000 jobs nationwide. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar estimated the local economy would lose $1 million per day in revenue from postponing the opening of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks and NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis warned of long-term impacts such as an inability to support community projects and initiatives and threats to the biological integrity of the parks, via a reduction of invasive species removal programs.
However, the national parks are not backing down without a fight. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) are voraciously battling the sequester cuts and advocating for a removal of the budget cuts. They have helped bring awareness to the topic by starting a twitter trend #KeepParksOpen and in this video here, John Garder of the NPCA talks about the damaging impacts of the sequester on National Parks and why we should be concerned and participate in the protection and sustenance of our national parks. Clearly these impacts are definitely far-reaching and could destroy the future of US treasured national parks. With impending effects and increasing awareness, it is my belief and hope that the national parks win this battle soon.