Press Release Feb 27, 2020

Parks Experience Record Visitation While Dealing with Staff Cuts and Growing Maintenance Backlog

For years, rampant underfunding coupled with staff cuts and increased visitation has required park staff to do far more with much less. 

Washington, DC – The National Park Service (NPS) announced today that national parks welcomed nearly 328 million visitors last year, up three percent from 2018. This announcement comes just weeks after the Trump Administration released its budget plan for 2021, proposing serious cuts to the NPS that if enacted, would jeopardize the protection, maintenance and operation of our more than 400 national parks across the country.

For years, rampant underfunding coupled with staff cuts and increased visitation has required park staff to do far more with much less. And the lack of leadership within the agency has only compounded these struggles, making it more difficult for staff to perform their duties to ensure the protection and future of our national parks. Over the past decade, the Park System has experienced a 16 percent increase in visitation while also dealing with a 14 percent reduction in staffing. A massive maintenance backlog has only added to our Park System’s problems, with nearly $12 billion in needed repairs at sites across the country. And the administration has provided no support, proposing budgets that would make the problem worse. The administration’s most recent proposal calls for a total cut of $587 million (17 percent) to the NPS, which would result in the loss of more than 950 additional Park Service staff.

For example, between 2010 and 2019:

  • Rocky Mountain National Park experience a 58 percent increase in visitation but with 13 percent fewer staff. Meanwhile, its deferred maintenance backlog grew to $84 million.
  • Zion National Park saw 4.5 million visitors (68 percent increase), but with 16 percent fewer staff. Its backlog of repair needs grew to $68 million.
  • The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island greeted 4.2 million visitors (11 percent increase) but did so with 27 percent fewer staff. Its maintenance backlog grew to $90 million.

Congress is now beginning its appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2021. Next week, the Department of the Interior will be called to Capitol Hill to defend its budget and respond to this pattern. Meanwhile, H.R.1225: Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act has the support of 329 bipartisan cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s companion bill in the Senate, S.500: Restore Our Parks Act, has 50 cosponsors. Together, this bipartisan legislation is supported by 70 percent of Congress.

Below is a statement by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association:

“Year after year, we are reminded how popular our national parks are and how critical they are to local economies across the country. But while parks are experiencing more visitors than ever before, they are also dealing with a 14 percent loss of staff, a $12 billion maintenance backlog, and the threat of even more funding cuts by the administration’s insulting budget proposal. It’s unfathomable that we’ve let some of our most iconic national parks from Acadia to Everglades to Yellowstone reach this point. This situation is unsustainable and must be addressed before these treasured places suffer from damage they can’t recover from.

“Visitors from around the world come to our national parks expecting a once-in-a-lifetime experience, filled with epic hikes, iconic landscapes and the stories that have shaped our nation’s history. But more and more, visitors are met with road and trail closure signs, locked buildings and broken bathrooms, and fewer rangers to provide help. These are not the memories we want people to take away from their experience at our parks. This is not how we treat our most treasured places that protect America’s legacy.

“There are solutions on the table right now with ample bipartisan support that would help fix our parks. Now is the time for Congress to act on these solutions and make substantial investments in our parks’ resources and staff so they can continue to welcome visitors for generations to come.”

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About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.