Businesses that rely on national parks and their settings voiced concern Thursday over how the coming federal budget sequestration will affect their operations and the economies in their areas.
“The basic truth is that gateway community businesses depend on our national parks being open and properly funded. Our economy depends on their economy,” said Luke D. Hyde, owner of the Calhoun Country Inn near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Bryson City, North Carolina.
While the National Park Service continued Thursday to sort through the details of what operations and staffing would be affected by a 5.1 percent budget cut if Congress and the White House fail to agree on a solution before Friday, nearly 300 businesses from across the country warned of the direct impacts the sequestration would have if it's long-lasting.
The businesses were brought together by the National Parks Conservation Association to put a face on those beyond federal employees who stand to be affected by the budget cuts.
“These indiscriminate across-the-board cuts to our 398 national parks will harm tourism-dependent businesses and communities if our elected leaders allow them to last. Millions of Americans who visit parks rely on these businesses for lodging, tour guides and meals. If national parks are closed or inaccessible due to reduced hours, it hurts businesses and visitors,” said NPCA President Tom Kiernan.
The Park Service earlier this week released annual economic data showing the positive impact national parks have in states. Nationwide, national parks contribute more than $30 billion in economic activity and support more than a quarter million jobs.
NPCA says an upcoming $110 million cut to the Park Service budget will not only be devastating to the parks themselves, but to the many businesses and communities that rely on them to drive sales, and to families that rely on the national parks as affordable and inspiring destinations.
In a letter addressed to President Obama and Congress, businesses rallied to state the harsh reality that reducing park budgets kills jobs. Kirk Hoessle, local business owner of Alaska Wildland Adventures said, “Congress needs to understand that my business suffers when Denali National Park suffers from cuts. Not only do we need to keep park roads and visitor centers open, but we need to make sure visitors have a great experience.”
William Duckwall, manager of Uncle Ducky Outdoors, an outdoor outfitting company that has been operating in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula since 1988 said, “More cuts to national parks mean less rangers and services, and that isn’t good for my business or any of my neighbors’ businesses.”
According to a Park Service memo about potential impacts to park budgets, information suggests the sequester will cause drastic cuts to jobs, educational programs, visitor centers, and visitor access points, including:
* Jobs: Blue Ridge Parkway would cut 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, which would result in the closure of 50 percent of its visitor center-contact stations. By eliminating these seven stations, an 80-mile distance will be put in between each open facility.
* Education: Gettysburg National Military Park would eliminate 20 percent of its Student Education Programs during the spring, which will impact 2,400 students.
* Impact to gateway communities: Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road would delay its reopening by two weeks. In previous instances, closure of the road has resulted in $1 million in lost revenue daily, to surrounding communities and concessions.
* Permanent Visitor Center Closure: Mount Rainier National Park would permanently close its Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, affecting 60,000-85,000 visitors.
* Tourism: Grand Canyon National Park would delay 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.
“It’s alarming that this very avoidable threat could become a reality. From Yellowstone to Cape Cod, the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains, our national heritage and local economies are at risk,” said Mr. Kiernan.
According to an NPCA analysis, every dollar invested in the Park Service generates about ten dollars in economic activity—yet in today’s dollars, the Park Service budget has already declined by 15 percent over the last decade. According to a recent poll, 9 out of 10 agree that funding for the national parks should be held stable or increased.
Unless Congress and the administration reach a budget deal by Friday, the across-the-board sequester will take effect as early as the weekend. For more information about how national parks will be impacted, visit this NPCA website.