America's national parks, places such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, and Everglades, face problems both small and large due to poor federal funding, according to a survey of voters released today.
The survey, of 1,004 registered voters, also found that nearly nine in ten respondents believe it is either extremely important or quite important for the federal government to protect and support the national parks.
“From the Everglades to Gettysburg and Yellowstone, our national parks are American icons and inspire visitors from across the world, supporting urban and rural economies nationwide,” said Tom Kiernan, the NPCA's president. “This poll is a clear indication that voters want to see them preserved and protected for the future.”
“The American people understand that national parks are gifts from the past to treasure today and bequeath to future generations of Americans,” added Derrick Crandall, counselor for the Hospitality Association, which represents park concessionaires. “Our nation’s leaders – regardless of party – can’t allow differences on other issues to obscure the unifying force of our national parks.”
So far, however, national parks and the environment have not been part of the presidential campaigns. On the congressional side, great attention has been attracted by efforts in the House of Representatives to sweep aside dozens of environmental laws in the name of border security.
The poll released this morning, though, would seem to indicate the politicians should be paying more attention to the health of the National Park System and working to improve it. Among key findings:
* When voters are asked to think about the major national parks such as Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and the Everglades National Park, nearly nine in 10 (88%) say it is extremely important (59%) or quite important (29%) for the federal government to protect and support those parks.
* The importance for federal protection for national parks is evident across party lines, with strong majorities of Democrats (92%), independents (90%), and Republicans (81%) saying it is extremely or quite important for the federal government to protect and support national parks.
* Nearly nine in 10 (86%) respondents say they are very or fairly interested in visiting national parks in the future, including 83% of Hispanic voters and 89% of voters under 30.
* 95% of voters agree that protecting and supporting national parks is an appropriate role for the federal government today, and this sentiment is shared by Democrats (98%), independents (93%), and Republicans (91%).
* Only 6% of voters think national parks are generally in good shape, a view held by similar proportions of Democrats, independents, and Republicans. By contrast, the vast majority of voters think national parks face minor (46%) or major (25%) problems.
* Voters are troubled when they learn about the many problems facing national parks as a result of budget cuts. They are particularly concerned, for example, when they read that insufficient funding has resulted in closed or unprotected parks and historic sites (this concerns 80% of voters overall; 46% of voters a great deal). Other troubling problems are inadequate guest services and amenities (76% overall; 40% a great deal), historic buildings and cultural resources in disrepair (74% overall; 37% a great deal), and a maintenance backlog that exceeds several billion dollars (74% overall; 35% a great deal).
* Only 4% of voters overall, and 7% of Republicans, think the federal government is spending too much on national parks. By contrast more than a third (35%) suspect we are spending too little, 23% say we are spend the right amount, and a plurality (38%) do not know enough to say.
* More than three in four (77%) voters say it is very or fairly important for the next president to ensure that parks are fully restored and ready to serve and be relevant to this country for another hundred years.
Voters Want Parks Protected For Their Enjoyment
The poll also found that more than 80 percent of those likely to vote this fall have visited a national park at some point in their lives, and nearly nine in 10 say they are interested in visiting a park in the future, and 60% want to stay overnight in a park lodge.
"National parks are viewed as embodying the American experience, and voters want to see them enjoyed, honored, cherished, and cared for, not left to crumble into disrepair," the NPCA and NPHA said in a joint release.
National parks are a top tourist draw but are a very small part of the federal budget -- less than 1/13th of one percent. Yet they support $31 billion in private-sector spending and 258,000 jobs each year, the release pointed out.
And as the National Park Service approaches its centennial in 2016, a majority of likely voters (77 percent) say it is important for the next president to ensure that parks are fully restored and ready to serve and be relevant to future generations in their second century.
Voters Oppose More Cuts To Park Funding
The poll offers important information as the Administration and Congress consider additional cuts to national parks through the annual appropriations process and the looming across-the-board cut known as “sequestration,” scheduled for January 2013.
The National Park Service could face cuts of as much as 10 percent that would reduce seasonal park rangers and potentially close visitor centers, campgrounds and even some entire national park sites, according to NPCA and NPHA.
The survey was conducted by Hart Research Associates and North Star Opinion Research from June 12-17, 2012, among a national sample of 1,004 registered voters.