Does Congress need a reason to keep parks open? Here are 8.
Remember not so long ago when Congress shut down the federal government because it failed to reach a funding agreement? Two years ago, a standoff between lawmakers lasted 16 days and had far-reaching consequences for people across the country.
Now, in an anxiety-producing case of political déjà vu, members of the House and the Senate are staring down the same September 30 funding deadline and threatening to close the doors on a range of federal offices and services all over again—including all 409 national park sites.
The memory of closed signs and locked gates barring people from their public lands is still fresh in the minds of many. Do we want, as a nation, to allow Congress to close down these beloved places yet again, not to mention the many other vital services our federal government provides?
Here are eight reasons Congress must stop using political brinksmanship to hijack vital funding for national parks.
1. In 2013, Congress furloughed 21,379 National Park Service staff. Although Congress eventually compensated these employees, the process took months and workers began the month of October believing that they would need to go indefinitely without pay.
2. The National Park Hospitality Association estimates that approximately 18,000 non-governmental workers in parks—concessions employees, contractors, and others—became unemployed or were significantly underemployed as a result of national park closures during the 2013 federal shutdown. These workers were not compensated for the days they could not earn their livelihoods.
3. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that the Park Service lost $7 million in fee revenue—money paid directly to parks for entry, campgrounds, and other services.
4. The Park Service estimates that local communities around the country lost $414 million in economic activity, including visitor spending on everything from hotel rooms and restaurant meals to groceries and gas. For many national parks, October is the peak visitation season, when local tourism businesses have the most to lose.
5. The National Park Service estimated a decline in nearly 8 million visitors in October 2013.
6. Closing national parks without staff to protect them leaves natural and historic sites vulnerable to poaching and vandalism.
7. National park staff have struggled for years to preserve world-class natural and historic resources with inadequate budgets. The backlog of national park maintenance needs includes more than $11.5 billion in unfunded projects. By continuing to delay needed funding and proposing only short-term solutions instead of sustainable long-term funding, Congress further shortchanges our National Park System and dooms park managers to making difficult choices about where to reduce services, maintenance, or staff to keep their costs down.
8. Congress is currently debating the spending bill for fiscal year 2016—the 100-year anniversary of the National Park System. As part of this upcoming centennial, the Park Service has already begun encouraging new audiences to experience the grandeur of their iconic public lands. President Obama has even spearheaded a campaign to get every fourth-grader into a park for free. Is this when we want to turn people away from the gates and threaten to cripple the funding for these essential places, at the exact same time we are getting ready to celebrate and welcome new people to some of the most special treasures America has to offer the world?
Please join NPCA in asking Congress to keep the federal government open and to better fund our national parks. We want our nation’s inspirational lands and historic sites to continue to dazzle visitors, drive local economies, and preserve our proud heritage in these critical months leading up to their centennial … and for many years to come.
About the author
John Garder Senior Director of Budget & Appropriations, Government Affairs
John Garder is Senior Director of Budget & Appropriations at NPCA. He is a budget analyst and researcher who advocates for more adequate funding for national parks to diverse audiences, including Congress, the White House, and the Department of the Interior.