Federal government shutdown threatens to close national parks across the country impacting local economies as well as family vacation and school trips
Washington, D.C. – The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today warns that a government shutdown would close national parks and impact local communities if a federal budget deal is not reached by October 1. Planned vacations, local businesses, and communities that provide lodging, dining, and other recreational activities could be jeopardized. National parks could see a loss of more than 750,000 daily visitors and an economic loss to gateway communities of as much as $30 million for each day the parks are closed.
“A government shutdown would make a bad situation even worse for our national parks,” said Theresa Pierno, acting president of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Families, school groups, and tourists from around the world have made plans expecting our parks to be open. Instead, they face the possibility of disruption and disappointment, while local businesses and park concessioners that serve them face the prospect of lost revenue and further economic hardship.”
In addition to the threat of a shutdown, a proposed funding measure already passed by the House of Representatives would continue the drastic across-the-board cuts from 2013 that slashed more than$180 million from the National Park Service operating budget.
While the threat of government shutdown occurred in 2011, the government actually shut down in late 1995 and early 1996 for a total of 27 days. According to NPCA’s 1996 report, this shutdown cost park-dependent communities an estimated $14 million daily. For example, in Mariposa County, adjacent to Yosemite National Park in California, saw 25 percent of their adult population temporarily out of a job due to the park closure. The communities around Everglades National Park were hit with an estimated decrease in direct sales of up to $1.4 million. In today’s dollars, a government shutdown next week could be even more devastating to these communities.
“When our national parks closed in 1995-96, I received an outpouring of calls from gateway communities alarmed by the situation,” said Phil Francis, recently retired superintendent of Blue Ridge Parkway, typically the most visited National Park Service unit in October, with nearly 60,000 visitors spending $1.4 million each day.
“The potential shutdown adds insult to injury because these communities are already concerned about the recent cutbacks in funding for national parks that have harmed the Park Service’s ability to serve visitors. No one expected these cuts to happen again. Now we’re looking at not only a potential shutdown, but the likelihood of another round of cuts. If that happens, there’s a good chance it’s going to be even harder than last year,” added Francis.
Chris Fogg, Executive Director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce in Maine, says the potential shutdown could be devastating to the Bar Harbor community. “Acadia National Park is an economic driver for our community and we could see a potential loss of $684,000 per day. The beautiful fall foliage in October attracts nearly 10,000 visitors daily and the loss could be shattering to our community. Because of the sequester and the late opening of Acadia’s roads, business was already down about 30 percent in April and May of this year in comparison to the average of the previous five years. We just can’t believe that Congress is letting this happen,” said Fogg.
Grand Canyon National Park averages over 11,000 visitors per day during the month of October. Kevin Striet, business director of Grand Canyon Tour & Travel, is also concerned. “Grand Canyon Tour & Travel operates several buses daily to the South Rim filled with anxious passengers, both domestic and foreign, and some of whom, have planned their whole trip around the chance to visit the Grand Canyon. The thought of having to re-direct hundreds of passengers at a moment’s notice is not one that we like to think about but as the day comes with no resolution to an approved budget, the actuality of having to re-route passengers to other tours, or to perhaps cancel their excursion, altogether is daunting. We are hoping that at least a temporary budget is approved until a more permanent solution can be found,” said Striet.
The government shutdown would compound the challenges of budget cuts over the last three years for the National Park Service. The budget to operate national parks, in today’s dollars, is already 13 percent less than it was three years ago, a loss of $315 million. This cut forced national park superintendents to delay the opening of parks or park roads; close visitor centers, picnic areas, and campgrounds; decrease the number of rangers to protect and maintain parks; and limit the number of educational programs.
The Senate is expected to vote on the House version of a short-term funding bill over the weekend, which maintains the across-the-board funding cuts, in order to keep the government open. Negotiations are expected to continue through the weekend up until the October 1 deadline.
About 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 more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
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