Budget Impasse Will Be Major Setback for National Parks

Yosemite's Tioga Pass road will be plowed weeks later, leaving visitors to drive around the Sierra.

Yosemite’s Tioga Pass road will be plowed weeks later, leaving visitors to drive around the Sierra.

Sometimes brinksmanship leads to deals, sometimes it just leads to going over the brink. If the president and Congress don’t agree on a financial plan to avoid automatic spending cuts set to go into effect Friday, national parks will see major reductions in services, operating hours, and accessible terrain. Warnings have been sounded for weeks, including when a leaked memo by NPS chief Jon Jarvis became public, warning superintendents to prepare for five percent budget cuts, but with “sequestration” just a few days away, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees has released details of exactly how the cuts would affect parks.

Five percent might not sound like a huge amount, but 90 percent of parks’ budgets go to fixed costs like salaries and rent, leaving judge 10 percent for discretionary spending. What’s under that 10 percent? Picking up trash. Fixing potholes. Keeping visitor’s centers and campgrounds open. Plowing roads. If politicians don’t agree on a deal, exactly half of that disappears on March 1.

“Congress might just as well put a big “Keep Out!” sign at the entrance to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Cape Cod Seashore, and every other iconic national park in the U.S.,” said CNPSR spokesperson Joan Anzelmo, former Superintendent of Colorado National Monument. “This foolhardy path tarnishes America’s ‘crown jewels’ and is a repudiation of the nation’s national parks often touted as ‘America’s best idea’.”

According to CNPSR, and confirmed by the Park Service, here’s how parks and visitors would be affected:

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho will delay spring road opening operations inside the park and to the west, south, east, and northeast entrances. Savings would come from a combination of reduced or delayed seasonal hiring, extended unpaid furloughs for employees, and reduced operating expenses including fuel, equipment and maintenance. Access from the west (from US 20 & 191 West Yellowstone, MT), from the south (US 287/89, Jackson, WY thru Grand Teton National Park) and the east (US 20, Cody, WY) would be delayed 2-3 weeks. Access from the northeast via the Chief Joseph Highway (near Cody, WY) and Beartooth Highway (near Red Lodge, MT) would be delayed 3-4 weeks. Visitor access to Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake would be delayed 2-3 weeks. Combined, these delays will affect over 78,000 visitors, reduce park fee revenue by more than $150,000 and have significant economic impacts to concessioners and gateway communities.

Grand Canyon National Park in AZ will delay opening the East and West Rim Drives and reduce hours of operation at the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center. This will immediately affect over 250,000 visitors. Grand Canyon receives approximately five million visitors annually.

Yosemite National Park in CA, will delay the opening of the Tioga and Glacier Point roads by as much as four weeks due to limitations on snow removal resulting from reduced staffing which will impact thousands of visitors. In 2011, Yosemite National Park had a near record 4,098,648 visitors.

Glacier National Park in MT will delay opening the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks, the only road which provides access to the entire park. In previous instances, closures of Going-to-the-Sun Road have resulted in financial distress for surrounding communities and concessions well into millions in lost revenues.

Grand Teton National Park in WY will close the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, and the Flagg Ranch Visitor Contact Station, for the summer season affecting over 300,000 visitors. Additionally, the park’s cooperating association, the Grand Teton Association will lose $225,000 in sales revenue as a result of the closures.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in NC & TN will close five campgrounds and picnic areas affecting over 54,000 visitors. Additionally, the reduction in staff will result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses to activities such as accidents, rockslides, ice, and hazardous tree removal for more than 35,000 vehicles per day on several heavily travelled routes in the Cades Cove District as well as the thoroughfares between Gatlinburg, TN and Pigeon Forge, TN and between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC.

Cape Cod National Seashore in MA will close the Province Lands Visitor Center for the season due to inability to staff and maintain it. Normal operating hours are daily, early May through late October. This closure will affect over 260,000 visitors. Additionally, visitor access to large sections of the Great Beach will be reduced and restricted in order to protect the nesting shorebirds. The nesting birds require daily monitoring, which a reduced staff could not provide.

Natchez Trace Parkway in MS, AL & TN a reduction in seasonal employees will cause closure of 25 comfort stations one day per week, affecting more than 200,000 visitors.

Mount Rainier National Park in WA will close the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center due to inability to staff and maintain it, affecting upwards of 85,000 visitors.

Denali National Park in AK will have seasonal staff shortages resulting in delayed plowing operations of Denali’s spring road, postponing the opening of the Eielson Visitor Center. This would impact over 3,500 visitors per day and would significantly affect revenue for local businesses.

{ 3 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Craig Rowe

    At a GC guide training seminar a couple of weeks ago, David Uberuaga cited this as a serious concern, emphasizing that it wasn’t just political wrangling. Fewer ranger talks, guided hikes, new hires and seasonal hires will be impacted, as you state.

    Nasty stuff, these politicians of ours.

  • BJ

    This case shows an astounding mismanagement of public funds. It is absurd that an entity as large as the park service blows whichever way the wind blows when FIVE PERCENT is at risk.

    Dare I say it? Its time to cut that 90% down to around 60%. 60% in wages and fees, 20% in discretionary spending, and…….20% in profit and bonuses!! Bwahahahahah who am i kidding. You do the mental gymnastics to decide how to get to that.

  • MZ

    Wait, so that 90% fixed budget allotment includes salaries, but not the salaries of those who plow roads, pick up trash, staff visitor centers, etc.? Where does it go?

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