Editor’s Note: The National Park Service (NPS) is ramping up for the spring and summer months, just as the mandated across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration are setting in. Despite current budget woes, NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis still thinks he has the best job in America. He spoke to The Hill about the impact of budget cuts on the parks, what the public can expect this spring and his vision for the agency’s future.
Q: Now that the sequester has gone into effect, what impact is it having on the National Park Service?
The problem with the sequester is that by law, it is line by line in the budget, and the National Park Service is budgeted park by park, so every national park, all 398 national park units in the system, have a line in the budget. Every one of them takes 5%. And there’s no authority for me to make those changes, so every park in the system, whether it’s the National Mall or Gettysburg or Prince William Forest or Great Falls or G.W. Parkway or Yellowstone and Yosemite, every one of them has to find 5%.
The second piece is that it comes halfway through the year. And just as we here in Washington are gearing up for spring and summer events, every national park in the system is gearing up for their summer. Now, there will be no park closures. We’re not closing down. This is not a government shutdown. This is a cutback on services across the system, and each of our park superintendents has had to make individual choices of that, and we’re seeing those kinds of effects across the entire system.
Q: If nothing is done to reverse the sequester, what will that mean as we get later into spring and summer?
States are offering assistance, our friends, organizations are helping out, sometimes the gateway communities. I think that we’re trying to provide as much public information and certainty so people can make their plans for the summer.
What’s really interesting about national parks is that we get a high percentage of repeat visitors. There are families that come every year to this campground, to this campsite, and they’ve done it for four generations and they may be impacted this time. It may just not be open when they traditionally use it, so we’ll see more and more of that as it plays out through the summer.
Q: If you were tasked with reducing the budget by 5%, are there cuts that would make more sense, if you had the discretion?
There are things that we can delay, construction projects. Five percent hurts, but we could move money around within the organization to probably minimize the impact to the field and to the resources.
Q: Are there any Washington, D.C.-specific impacts from the sequester that people should be paying attention to?
Absolutely: there will be reduced hours of rangers available at all of the monument sites and reduced availability of rangers to give interpretive programs, to be there to answer questions and provide directions. All of that is being reduced across the monuments and memorials. The same thing with our security staff. We’ll make sure that we’re maintaining, but it will be a reduced presence across (the agency). To be blunt about it, we’re not going to do as frequent trash pickup, so there’ll be some overflowing trash cans out there that will be unsightly. We’ll come and get them, but during peak, we do it multiple times during the day; we’re not going to be able to do that this year. And we’re looking at our entire events schedule throughout the year, and seeing where we can save some money.
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National parks across the country have begun to release specific information on the upcoming sequestration, in an effort to warn families planning vacations, community members who depend on the parks for income, and park employees to brace for the impact, examiner.com reported.
Parks affected include:
Blue Ridge Parkway will cut 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, resulting in the closure of 50% of its visitor centers and contact stations. Eliminating seven stations will put 80 miles between open facilities along the parkway, reducing the interpretive information available to visitors.
Gettysburg National Military Park will eliminate 20% of its Student Education Programs this spring, canceling field trips for 2,400 students.
Glacier National Park will delay the reopening of Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks. Previous closures of the road resulted in lost revenue for surrounding communities and concessions of $1 million per day, a potentially devastating blow to businesses that depend on the park for tourism dollars.
Mount Rainier National Park will close its Ohanapecosh Visitor Center permanently, eliminating this resource for 60,000-85,000 visitors annually.
Grand Canyon National Park will delay the seasonal opening of its East and West Rim Drives, and reduce hours of operation at the main visitor center – impacting a quarter of a million visitors.
Lassen Volcanic National Park in California will keep its main road and campgrounds closed for an additional two weeks this spring, and close the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center for two days each week. The Red Bluff Daily News reports that this will affect 1,100 schoolchildren who would normally visit the park during these weeks, and the park will lose about $156,000 in revenue.
Shenandoah National Park has delayed the opening of campgrounds, picnic areas, and visitor centers, as well as the hiring of seasonal employees, park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog told The Daily Progress newspaper in Virginia. Preventative search and rescue operations have been scrapped, eliminating an effective program that placed people at trailheads and on trails, making sure that hikers had water and a plan to keep themselves safe on challenging trails.
“A $110 million cut will not only be devastating to the parks themselves, but to the many businesses and communities that rely on them to drive sales,” said Perry Wheeler, a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association, in an e-mail. “Our national parks represent just 1/14th of 1% of the federal budget, and they sustain a quarter-million private sector jobs and generate $31 billion from tourism and recreation alone. Every dollar invested in the National Park Service generates about $10 in economic activity.”
Now that President Barack Obama has announced that he will not meet with Congressional leadership until after the sequestration takes effect on Friday, visitors could begin to see the difference in their favorite parks by the end of this week.
If Congress can’t agree on a deficit-reduction plan soon, vacationers heading to the country’s national parks this spring and summer could find reduced staffs, shorter visiting hours and even closings.
CNBC reported that a January memo from the National Park Service states that nearly $110 million would have to be immediately eliminated from the park services’ $2.2 billion budget due to sequestration— the mandated budget cuts scheduled to take place March 1.
Among the parks facing the most severe cuts are Yellowstone, Yosemite, the National Mall and Memorial Park in Washington, D.C., the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Great Smoky Mountains and Mount Rushmore.
On the chopping block for reduction or elimination are national park ranger jobs, maintenance crews and stores operated at visiting centers. Parks that remain open would have limited bathrooms facilities, fewer open trails and available camping spots.
Nearly 300 million people visit the parks each year and generate some $31 billion in spending and help support around 258,000 related private sector jobs.
Reductions in the park budget will reduce those numbers as well, said Joan Anzelmo, spokesperson for the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a non-profit group of former park workers.
“This couldn’t come at a worse time as people plan trips for the summer and spring,” Anzelmo said. “We’re looking at delayed park openings because there won’t be enough staff to open and even closings if there aren’t enough people to maintain them.”
“These cuts would be devastating to the parks and the local economies,” Anzelmo argued. “The budget for the parks is pretty slim as it is now, and further cuts will put the parks in jeopardy. Jobs will be lost and spending will go down. This is no way to run a National Park system.”
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Nearly 150 leaders of the American national park community gathered at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park for a five-day discussion of opportunities and concerns.
The meeting, Grand Thoughts at the Grand Canyon, was organized by the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA) in cooperation with Grand Canyon National Park. Participants included executives of companies operating in the national parks, providing overnight accommodations and meals to an estimated 100 million park visitors annually, according to a news release.
Also participating were National Park Service (NPS) leaders, including Director Jon Jarvis and Deputy Director Peggy O’Dell, and the presidents of both the National Park Foundation (NPF) and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
The meeting also attracted key leaders from the telecommunications and entertainment industries and national tourism leaders, including state tourism directors. Grand Thoughts was held at the Grand Canyon Lodge, a structure built in 1928 that continues today to provide an inspiring perspective on America’s natural beauty.
Tom Kiernan, president of NPCA, described unity among the parks community and a focus on long-term communications and funding as essential to achieve a “Bending of the Curve.” He described the current situation facing parks on both funding and visitation as downward. “We are at a crossroads,” he told the group, “but through unified action we can ‘Bend the Curve.’”
The program featured nearly a dozen keynote presentations and special panels. Leading off the program was Brent Young, founder and creative director for Studio 78, a top creator of theme park attractions and innovative film concepts globally. He touted the use of “Augmented Reality” as a part of park visits. Among his suggestions was using geospatial information to share what has occurred at the same spot at which visitors stand today – from battlefields to scenic overlooks. He told the group that a walk with a holographic ranger was technically feasible even today, and that leisure-time forces like theme parks and the film industry are investing heavily in technology that is then available to museums and parks at a greatly reduced cost.
New strategies to boost the financial and manpower resources available in national parks were another key topic of discussion. Participants learned about successes in related fields – including the rebuilding of Chicago’s lakeshore through a public/private partnership – and discussed new ideas ranging from a Penny for Parks proposal, which is connected with pending discussions regarding national surface transportation policy, to issues that could be addressed in conjunction with reauthorization of federal recreation fees, necessary by December 2014.
The Obama administration is trying to draw more Latinos to U.S. national parks through the creation of a list of Latino heritage sites within the national park system, Travel Weekly reported.
The endeavor is headed by the American Latino Heritage Fund within the National Park Foundation, the official charity of the national parks. Latino sites range from Spanish colonial fortifications to missions across the country from Florida to California.
Latinos are under-represented in park visitor numbers, according to Francisco Carrillo, director of Latino affairs for the Department of the Interior. He said that the government is working with groups such as the ASTA/NTA Hispanic Task Force to call attention to the Latino heritage program.
Karen Nozik, director of ally development and partnerships for the National Parks Conservation Association, a lobbying group for the national parks, said, “The demographics of the U.S. are changing, and we need to educate more Latinos about the parks. They are the perfect demographic for parks. They like intergenerational trips of two to four days duration and they like to drive to their vacations.”
Besides publicizing Latino heritage sites in national parks, the National Park Service wants to find and preserve other sites that show the contribution of American Latinos.
For example, the new Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, Calif., pays tribute to the man who founded the United Farm Workers of America.
To show its appreciation for those who serve in the U.S. Military, on May 19 – Armed Forces Day – the National Park Service will begin issuing an annual pass offering free entrance to all 397 national parks for active duty military members and their dependents, according to a news release.
Military personnel must show a current, valid military identification card to obtain their pass. More information is available at www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm.
This military version of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass also permits free entrance to sites managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service. The pass is also available at these locations.
“Through the years, military members, especially those far from home in times of conflict, have found inspiration in America’s patriotic icons and majestic landscapes, places like the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon that are cared for by the National Park Service and symbolize the nation that their sacrifices protect,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “This new pass is a way to thank military members and their families for their service and their sacrifices.”
National parks and the military have strong ties going back to the establishment of Yellowstone as the world’s first national park in 1872. The U.S. Cavalry watched over America’s national parks and did double duty, serving as the first park rangers until the National Park Service was created 44 years later. During World War II, many parks were set aside for the training and care of military personnel. Today, dozens of national parks commemorate military battles and achievements.
The average visitor to some of the nation’s parks and wilderness areas is getting grayer, prompting a new emphasis on getting young people to unplug and head outdoors.
USA Today reported that without “a generation of kids who have had good experiences with national parks, then in a very short amount of time, we may not have enough people who care about national parks to keep them going,” says John Hayes of the Dunes Learning Center at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
For the National Park Service (NPS), developing life-long connections between the public and parks — especially for young people — is a priority from now until its 2016 centennial.
That could be a challenge: A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that people ages 8 to 18 spent an average of 7½ hours a day on digital media. Last month, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that three times as many Millennials — born in the 1980s and ’90s — as Baby Boomers said they made no personal effort to help the environment.
A “big concern” of the National Park Service “is maintaining 21st-century relevance,” says James Gramann, a Texas A&M professor writing a book on people-park links. Visitors ages 16-24 are most under-represented, he says.
The aging of visitors affects wild places across the USA:
•The average age of a visitor to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area was 26 in 1969, 36 in 1991 and 45 in 2007, says a March report by the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s the same people. They got attached, and they keep going back,” says co-author Bob Dvorak, a Central Michigan University professor.
•The average age of out-of-state visitors to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks in 2011 was 54, says the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.
•At California’s Death Valley National Park, 49% of spring visitors in 2010 were 46 to 65 years old.
Overall visits to national parks fell in 2011 for the second year in a row. The National Park Service counted 278.9 million visits in 2011, down about 1% from 2010.
Some parks have plenty of young visitors. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Ill., attracts about 10,000 students a year, Superintendent Dale Phillips says. “It’s important that we teach them early,” he says.
A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 281 million visitors to the nation’s 394 national parks had a direct spending impact of $12 billion in 2010.
This and other data are included in an annual, peer-reviewed, visitor spending analysis conducted by Daniel Stynes of Michigan State University for the National Park Service.
Across the U.S, local visitor spending added a total of $31 billion to the national economy and supported more than 258,000 jobs, an increase of $689 million and 11,500 jobs over 2009.
To download the report click here and then click on “Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll, 2010.”
The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.
All 397 national parks across the country will offer free admission from Jan. 14-16 to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, according to a press release.
“Dr. King led the fight to realize his dream of a nation free of discrimination, where every citizen was able to enjoy the inalienable rights promised to all Americans,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Dr. King’s story and those of so many others whose efforts changed our country are preserved in the national parks, places where history happened. I hope every American can take advantage of the upcoming fee free weekend and visit their parks to experience their history firsthand.”
A list of activities can be found at www.nps.gov., including snow shoe hikes, canoe trips, campfire programs, film festivals, battle reenactments and music jams.
The National Park Service will also waive admission fees on 14 other days in 2012 – National Park Week (April 21 to 29), Get Outdoors Day (June 9), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 29), and the weekend of Veterans Day (Nov. 10 to 12).
Having already grown accustomed to a dwindling budget in recent years, the National Park Service is now facing the prospect of a decade of across-the-board cuts starting at nearly 8% in 2013 plus a cap on discretionary spending that will be in effect from 2012 through 2021.
According to a report in the Flathead (Mont.) Beacon, this could mean shorter seasons at some national parks, staff reductions, deferred infrastructure maintenance, campground closings, reduced amenities and, perhaps, increased real estate development within park boundaries, among other cost-cutting casualties, according to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
In Northwest Montana, it means unavoidable impacts – in some form – on Glacier National Park, which a state tourism official calls the region’s “main economic driver.” And the threat of cuts comes at a time when Glacier is experiencing soaring visitation.
“Across the park system, it is fair to say that superintendents will be forced to make tough decisions,” said John Garder, the NPCA’s budget and appropriations legislative representative in Washington DC.
In November, the NPCA released a report stating that in fiscal year 2011 the National Park Service had funding reduced by $140 million, including $11.5 million for operations. Since 2002, the report states, the agency’s discretionary budget has decreased from $3 billion to $2.6 billion in today’s dollars.
The NPCA is an independent organization established in 1919 to protect and enhance the national park system, according to its website, with headquarters in Washington DC, 25 regional field offices and more than 600,000 members and supporters.
The organization’s report arrives at a time when the nation is mired in debate over how to trim the federal government’s deficit. The Budget Control Act of 2011, enacted in August, calls for cutting the deficit by roughly $900 billion through caps on discretionary spending beginning in 2012 and ending in 2021. Those spending caps will affect the national park system.
The Budget Control Act also established a deficit-reduction supercommittee, which failed to meet its late-November deadline for devising a plan to trim the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. The committee’s failure means Congress now has a year to agree on its own legislation before sequestration takes effect in 2013, setting off a decade of automatic cuts.
If Congress fails, automatic 7.8% cuts to non-defense discretionary programs, including the National Park Service, will be implemented in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. After that, these programs will endure cuts between 5.5% and 7.8%t through 2021.
Garder says about 90% of national parks’ budgets consist of fixed costs.
“That means the superintendents have 10% control of their budgets,” Garder said. “You cut 8% and they have to make some deep and painful cuts.”
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