The National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, today (April 11) unveiled www.nationalparks.org – a new, comprehensive community destination serving national park fans and supporters.
Built on the principle of delivering relevant, practical and compelling content generated by and for park visitors, the new online hub provides a centralized source for real-time news, information, commentary, photos, videos and more on America’s nearly 400 national parks, according to a news release.
As the official charitable partner of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation and its website serve as the online epicenter to directly support all of America’s national parks and their programs. From massive conservation projects to small programs that make a big difference, discover the many ways the National Park Foundation is supporting the national parks – and how you can help.
Designed and created by STRATMARK, just a few of the unique features of www.nationalparks.org include:
• Parks Near You – Wherever you are, instantaneously discover the national parks nearest you – with nearly 400 parks in the system, you may be surprised to discover one right around the corner.
• What’s Your Favorite Park – Everyone has a favorite – what’s yours? Easily select yours and discover news, photos, videos and even the real-time weather at your favorite national park destination.
• Parks By The People – With one click learn the latest about your national park destination from other park visitors and supporters. Photos, videos, tips, news and even up-to-the-minute Facebook and Twitter tidbits direct from the National Park Service – find it all in one place on nationaparks.org park pages.
• Share Your Story – Have an amazing national park photo, story or video? Let your experience inspire others by sharing it with the world and other national park fans like you.
• National Park Marketplace – Now you can shop online and support your national parks at the same time. Visit the new National Park Marketplace and discover great NPF merchandise and other products that go to support the national parks.
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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RV stays were up about 1% at the nation’s national parks through August, compared to last year, according to the latest data from the National Park Service.
The findings contrast with an overall 2% decline in all visitation to the parks during the same period.
Total RV stays through Aug. 31 at the 79 parks offering RV accommodations tallied 1,633,752, compared with 1,618,729 in the same period of 2010.
Grand Canyon National Park showed the biggest increase, a whopping 118,498 from 2010. Other big gainers were Gulf Islands National Seashore, up 42,933, and Rocky Mountain National Park, up 6,555.
Showing the biggest decline was Yosemite National Parks, down 31,036, Denali National Park, down 11,878, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, off 10,541.
The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, invite Americans to enjoy the outdoors free of charge tomorrow (Sept. 24) in observance of National Public Lands Day. As part of the 18th annual celebration, the National Park Service will waive all entrance fees and host special events for visitors and volunteers.
“Ranging from the community playground to the world’s first national park, about one third of our country’s land is public space – set aside for all of us to enjoy,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Whether you prefer to lend a hand on a volunteer project or just take it easy, let’s move outside on National Public Lands Day and experience these wonderful places.”
For the largest National Public Lands Day event taking place this year, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation have partnered with Nickelodeon to host the 8th annual Worldwide Day of Play. The flagship Worldwide Day of Play event will take place in Washington, D.C. on the Ellipse in President’s Park, next to the White House. This year’s Worldwide Day of Play will be the biggest yet, with an entire day of physical activities and games for kids and their families to encourage active and healthy lifestyles.
The National Park Service has developed a special Junior Ranger program for the day that will give kids a pedometer and encourage them to walk the length of trails in national parks across the country. National park rangers will also help kids try out a climbing wall and test their speed in a tent-raising race.
Also on September 24, Nickelodeon’s networks and website will go dark from noon to 3 p.m. (ET/PT) in an effort to inspire kids and families to get up and get active. Visit http://www.worldwidedayofplay.com for more information.
Go ahead, blame harsh weather or high gas prices for a marked reduction in visits to Yosemite and other national parks so far this year. The summer droves, though, are returning, according to a report by McClatchy Newspapers.
In other words, the time to really beat the crowds may have passed.
At traditionally popular parks from Yosemite and Yellowstone to Mount Rainier and the Great Smoky Mountains, visitation from January through May fell compared with last year, sometimes dramatically. The smaller crowds thrilled park visitors but worried the businesses that depend on them.
“The concessionaires and the gateway communities had a very tough spring,” Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman acknowledged Tuesday, “but the summer will be huge.”
Through May 31, Yosemite reported an approximately 7% decline in recreation visits compared with the same period last year; the Great Smoky Mountains’ decline exceeded 8%.
Elsewhere, the falloff has been even more dramatic. Yellowstone recorded a 14% decline in recreation visits through May 31 compared with 2010, and Mount Rainier reported a stunning 26% reduction.
“It’s rather difficult to know why,” Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said Tuesday. “We don’t survey people who don’t show up.”
Nash noted that this year’s visitation figures almost inevitably pale compared with the park’s record numbers last year. Yellowstone also garners its biggest visitation numbers, by far, during the summer.
Many of the major, so-called “crown jewel” parks experienced reductions significantly greater than the overall National Park Service visitor decline of less than 1%.
The reasons can range from the parochial to the global.
At Great Smoky Mountains, for instance, park spokesman Bob Miller noted that the temporary closure last year of a major highway nearby forced many more visitors to drive through the park as an alternative. This inflated last year’s visitation total and made a reduction this year predictable.
More broadly, any decline in international travel will ripple through the U.S. parks, where foreigners can make up a big share of the visitors. Economic hard times certainly can keep people at home.
“Our best guess may be that some of it is from fuel prices,” Miller said, “but we don’t really have a way of knowing why people don’t come.”
In April 2010, the average U.S. retail price for gasoline was about $2.90 a gallon, according to the Energy Department. A year later, the average price was nearly $4 a gallon.
Weather has dampened visitation, as well. Heavy storms, for instance, forced Yosemite to close for several days in March, while deep and persistent snow continues to slow road openings at Mount Rainier and Yellowstone.
“We had a big winter, with a lot of snow, and it lingered,” Nash said.
At Yosemite, snow forced park officials to postpone the opening of the important Tioga Pass highway until June 18, about two weeks later than last year and a month later than 2009.
National parks were still a big draw, to be sure, even during the relatively slow spring and winter months. Through May 31, a total of 89,318,694 recreation visitors were recorded in all National Park Service units.
Some of these park service “units” are obscure, such as the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site in Northern California (1,162 visitors, down a grand total of 62 from last year). Others are heavily trafficked, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina (2,651,237 visitors, up a remarkable 701,209).
When the weather turns, moreover, visitation can rise quickly. The very snowfall that blanketed Yosemite and deterred visitors earlier this year, for instance, now is engorging the rivers and propelling the waterfalls that more visitors are flocking to see.
“We see a lot of people traveling, a lot of people on the road,” said Lester Bridges, the president of the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce, near Yosemite.
The National Parks Promotion Council (NPPC) held a first-ever Park Visitor Research Summit in Yosemite National Park Jan. 7-8. Some 70 participants came from the National Park Service (NPS), a dozen universities and colleges, concessions companies, park-related businesses, state tourism agencies and non-profit organizations working with national parks to serve visitors.
Substantial support for the meeting was provided by Delaware North Companies, the principal concessioner in Yosemite National Park.
At the summit, Greg Dunn, executive vice president at YPartnership, delivered a briefing to park visitor researchers from the 2010 Portrait of the American Traveler Survey, according to a news release. The survey is conducted annually, and the data for the 2010 edition was collected in the first quarter of 2010.
Dunn told the group that the survey focuses on households of $50,000-plus income, and the 2010 survey is based upon just over 2,500 active leisure travelers (at least one leisure trip in the previous year. This constitutes 55% of the total U.S. population. Of this group, 66% express an interest in visiting a national park. This group is mostly male (56%) and Caucasian (82%, versus 3% African American).
The survey suggested two seemingly contradictory developments.
First, the “Great Recession” has permanently altered travel attitudes of many Americans and especially Boomers. They are now more focused on value, and they are waiting longer to commit to travel plans. They use the Internet to be knowledgeable purchasers of leisure travel.
The inconsistency? Travelers today are actually happier than they were 10 years ago — 80% of these travelers report that economic adversity has prompted a new focus on priorities. They are proudly cost-conscious. Dunn labeled them as believing that “cheaper is chic-er.”
Of the park-interested travelers, Florida and California are top destinations, and 33% will travel internationally. These same travelers are environmentally consciousness, but show very limited willingness to pay for “green travel.”
Of the prime park travelers:
- 73% say life has become too complicated.
- Twice as many have an interest in spas as golf.
- 81% report planning a vacation around a “life event” – a birthday or anniversary or wedding or retirement – to create memories.
- National parks rank high as a dream destination (#2, at 66%), because they meet key traveler goals such as “beauty” (84%) and “safe” (82%). On the other hand, a key goal for many travelers is something new – and national parks rarely highlight new offerings.
Contact information for Greg Dunn is: firstname.lastname@example.org, (407) 838-1828.
The national park system is headed for a record-breaking number of visitors this year if travel trends hold up.
Nearly 232 million people have already visited national park sites this year, with recreational visits in 2009 up almost 5% compared to the first nine months of 2008, according to ABC News.
If visitation stays strong through year’s end, the parks could see more than 288 million visitors for 2009, topping the previous records of more than 287 million visitors in 1987 and 1999, according to National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey G. Olson.
Ken Burns’ new series about the national parks, “America’s Best Idea,” which debuts on PBS Sept. 27, is expected to help keep interest in the parks high for the rest of the year. “We think it’s the neatest thing since sliced bread,” Olson said.
But other factors have already contributed to bringing in 13 million more people through August of this year compared to January-August 2008.
President Obama’s inauguration in January kicked off the year by bumping up tourist numbers to park sites like the National Mall and monuments in Washington, D.C. Then the reopening of some portions of Gulf Islands National Seashore, off the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, added another 3 million to park visitation, according to Olson.
Low gas prices and an increased interest in regional, inexpensive vacations also brought more folks to the parks. “Generally in times of economic turmoil, national parks are seen as being a great value, and people really connect with the parks as a place to go,” Olson said.
Obama’s visit with his family to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone added even more buzz, and three fee-free weekends this summer encouraged more people to visit the parks too. (Fees were also being waived on Sept. 26, which is National Public Lands Day.)
Olson said October is a big month for travel as well, especially among retirees and in parts of the country where there is fall foliage.
Officials at national parks across the U.S. are trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by cleaning up their own operations, with the help of federal stimulus dollars, according to Associated Press.
“We know we have to green our own house,” said Sonya Capek, the Pacific West region’s environmental program coordinator. “It’s part of our mission to protect and preserve the resources.”
The National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have started the Climate Friendly Parks network program to help parks address climate change. Parks must measure their amounts of emissions, come up with plans to curb them and educate the public on what they can do to help.
Seventeen parks, including the Everglades in Florida and Fire Island National Seashore in New York, have already created plans. Sixty parks are developing their own plans.
National parks, like other federal agencies, have already been under orders to reduce energy and gasoline use. But the Obama administration has pushed greening parts of government further, including replacing government fleets with more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.
Parks are turning down thermostats and sealing windows, providing loaner bikes to employees and installing food composting and recycling bins.
One recent morning at Mount Rainier, workers climbed atop the park’s emergency operations center and installed 48 solar panels to provide energy to the building. They have also added dual-flush toilets that reduce water use and use electric vehicles to pick up trash at campgrounds.
“The goal is really to knock (down) our carbon footprint,” said Jim Fuller, the park’s energy coordinator.
Each year, Mount Rainier creates greenhouse gas emissions equal to about 1,100 households. Visitors to Mount Rainier account for two-thirds of the 12,170 metric tons the park emits each year, mostly in driving to the park and inside it.
Federal stimulus dollars are giving national parks a boost in their efforts. Of $750 million for national parks, there’s stimulus money for energy-efficient windows at Alabama’s Russell Cave, wind turbines at Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic and solar panels at Georgia’s Cumberland Island.
Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may soon hop on hydrogen-powered shuttles, while those visiting parts of Golden Gate National Recreation Area will find mostly organic food grown within 30 miles rather than shipped from across the country. Rocky Mountain National Park runs shuttles so backpackers don’t have to drive to trailheads. Other parks such as Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are asking visitors to do their part with tours, education programs and public awareness campaigns.
“We’re basically trying, without hitting people over the head, to say this is an issue,” said Bob Krumenaker, Apostle Islands’ superintendent.
Rainier acting superintendent Randy King said the park doesn’t want to discourage visitors. “It’s very important that people enjoy the parks and make a personal connection.” So the park is looking in-house first to conserve where it can.
“We need to set a good example and do what we can,” he said.
Roger Scott, from Southfield, Mich., said he’s noticed solar panels at several national parks he visited since retiring last year.
“Parks get used an awful lot and they’re going to get used even more,” he said, adding that now is a good time to start thinking about human impact to the parks.
It’s unclear whether parks can realistically become carbon neutral through conservation alone or without buying offsets, but park officials say the expectation for now is get as close as possible.
“It’s OK to have a difficult goal,” King said. “It’s important that we take it seriously.”