Sequestration Means Big Cuts for Park System

February 21, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The automatic budget cuts set to take effect on March 1 will delay the opening of the East and West Rim drives at the Grand Canyon and reduce hours of operation at the main visitor center. At Gettysburg, 20% of student education programs would be eliminated this spring.

According to a Washington Post report, the Blue Ridge Parkway would lose 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, resulting in the closure of half of the park’s visitor stations and leaving 80 miles between each one.

Mount Rainer would permanently close a key visitor center, and Glacier would delay the opening of a well-visited mountain pass.

Five campgrounds and picnics area would close at the Great Smoky Mountains, affecting 54,000 visitors, and the Grand Tetons would close a visitor center, information station and preserve.

These are some new details that have emerged this week of how the National Parks Service would implement a 5.1% across-the-board reduction if Congress does not avert $85 billion in spending cuts across the federal government. A Park Service memo obtained by park advocates and provided to The Washington Post outlines some of the cuts, which would affect direct services to visitors from grass cutting to access to rangers and mountain passes.

The Post also reported that park advocates are pressuring Congress to avert a $110 million cut to the system, which would affect every park, from the National Mall to Yellowstone.

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Day Trippers Hike 2012 National Park Visitation

February 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite a sour economy and expensive gasoline, nearly 283 million visitors traveled to the National Park System in 2012, an increase of nearly 4 million from 2011 and the highest level of visitation since 2009, National Parks Traveler reported.

Remove 2009 — when visitation reached 285.6 million — from the list and the 282.7 million visitors who headed to parks last year marked the highest visitation in more than decade; you’d have to go all the way back to 2000, when 285.9 million visitors turned out, to find a higher year in terms of visitation.

The figures went live on the National Park Service’s Visitor Use Statistics page after the close of business, East Coast time, Friday and Park Service officials were not immediately available for comment. However, the statistics seem to indicate the overall increase was driven by day trippers.

• Concessionaire-reported lodging nights stood at 3.29 million in 2012, roughly equal to the 3.3 million reported for 2011;

• Stays in concessionaire-run campgrounds stood at 1.25 million in 2012, again roughly equal to the 1.21 million reported the year before;

• Campers in NPS-run campgrounds stood at 3.2 million last year, just behind the 3.22 million reported for 2011;

• Recreational vehicle overnights ran to 2.12 million in 2012, nearly equal to the 2.15 million of 2011;

• Backcountry overnights in 2012 stood at 1.81 million, ahead of the 1.71 million tallied in 2011.

To view the entire article click here.


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National Parks Weighing Solitude vs. High-Tech

January 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

As cell phones, iPods and laptops creep steadily into every corner of modern life, America’s national parks have stayed largely off the digital grid, among the last remaining outposts of ringtone-free human solitude.

For better or worse, that may soon change, Reuters reported.

Under pressure from telecommunications companies and a growing number of park visitors who feel adrift without mobile-phone reception, the airwaves in such grand getaway destinations as Yellowstone National Park may soon be abuzz with new wireless signals.

That prospect has given pause to a more traditional cohort of park visitors who cherish the unplugged tranquility of the great outdoors, fearing an intrusion of mobile phones – and the sound of idle chatter – will diminish their experience.

Some have mixed emotions. Stephanie Smith, a 50-something Montana native who visits Yellowstone as many as six times a year, said she prefers the cry of an eagle to ring tones.

But she also worries that future generations may lose their appreciation for the value of nature and the need to preserve America’s outdoor heritage if a lack of technology discourages them from visiting.

“You have to get there to appreciate it,” Smith said. “It’s a new world – and technology is a part of it.”

Balancing the two aesthetics has emerged as the latest challenge facing the National Park Service as managers in at least two premier parks, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, consider recent requests to install new telecommunications towers or upgrade existing ones.

There is no system-wide rule governing cellular facilities in the 300 national parks, national monuments and other units the agency administers nationwide. Wireless infrastructure decisions are left up to the managers of individual park units.

The agency’s mission statement requires it to protect park resources and the visitor experience, but each individual experience is unique, said Lee Dickinson, a special-uses program manager for the Park Service.

“I’ve had two visitors calling me literally within hours of each other who wanted exactly the opposite experience: One saying he didn’t vacation anywhere without electronic access and the other complaining he was disturbed by another park visitor ordering pizza on his cell phone,” Dickinson said.

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Report: Salazar to Vacate Interior Secretary Post

January 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (center) at the 2011 Louisville Show flanked by RVIA President Richard Coon (L) and RVIA Chairman Gregg Fore

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversaw a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill and promoted alternative energy sources throughout the nation, will step down in March.

The Associated Press reported that Salazar, a former Colorado senator, has run the Interior Department throughout President Barack Obama’s first term and pushed renewable power such as solar and wind and the settlement of a longstanding dispute with American Indians.

In a statement, Obama said Salazar had helped “usher in a new era of conservation for our nation’s land, water and wildlife” and had played a major role in efforts to “expand responsible development of our nation’s domestic energy resources.”

Salazar said in a statement that the Interior Department was helping secure “a new energy frontier” and cited an aggressive agenda to reform oil and gas leases, which he said had increased offshore drilling safety.

Under his watch, the Interior Department has authorized nearly three dozen solar, wind and geothermal energy projects on public lands that provide enough electricity to power more than 3 million homes, Salazar said.

Salazar spoke at the 2011 Louisville Show, touting the RV industry as a key proponent in connecting Americans with the outdoors.

“RV’s play a special role in providing Americans a time-honored way of reaching their camping, fishing, hunting and other recreation destinations,” Secretary Salazar said. “And, as a virtually 100% American industry, the RV industry plays a key role in our nation’s economy, employing tens of thousands of men and women right here at home.”

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a longtime Obama ally, is among those mentioned as a potential successor to Salazar, along with John Berry, director of the White House Office of Personnel Management. Berry is a former assistant Interior secretary and director of the National Zoo. Gregoire, whose term expires Wednesday, also is considered a candidate to replace Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency.


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Report: Length of Stays Drop at National Parks

July 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Yosemite National Park saw near-record numbers of visitors in 2011, but those people didn’t stick around.

USA Today reported that even as visitation has been up at the iconic California park and across the U.S. national park system, time spent per visit in the parks has dropped — declining nearly 15% systemwide over the past two decades.

In places such as Yosemite, the drop-off is much greater. Park spokesman Scott Gediman said fewer people are making the park a destination for a week-long camping trip, instead choosing to cruise through the Valley seeing a few main sites for a few hours before heading elsewhere.

“The way the visitors are seeing the parks is totally changing,” he said. “We’ll see 70-80 buses come through, and maybe one or two of them are spending the night. More and more, people are not just coming here, they’re going to other parks and places as well. We’re finding that vacations themselves have changed.”

The National Park Service trend bucks statistics showing that Americans are increasingly spending more time and money on outdoor recreation, said Avery Stonich, communications manager for the Outdoor Industry Association. Over the past five years, spending on outdoor recreation has increased by 5% annually, according to analysis by her organization.

“People are still making outdoor recreation a priority in their lives,” Stonich said. “While they aren’t going to the national parks, they certainly are spending more time outdoors.”

To read the entire article in USA Today click here.

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National Park Foundation Debuts Consumer Site

April 11, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, today (April 11) unveiled – 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 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 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.


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National Parks Service Could Face Severe Cuts

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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.”

To view the entire article click here.


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National Park RV Stays on Pace With Last Year

October 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

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National Public Lands Day Celebrates Outdoors

September 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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 for more information.


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National Parks Reporting Lag in Spring Visits

July 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

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