Failure by Congress to avert a sweeping budget cut across all government agencies stands to cut your views of the Grand Canyon, limit your access to Cape Cod National Seashore's beaches, and delay the opening of Yellowstone National Park this spring.
And you might encounter troubles trying to navigate the Tioga Road in Yosemite National park or getting to Glacier Point to gaze down on the Yosemite Valley. Car crashes or downed trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park could clog traffic as response times lengthen due to lack of staff. And if you want to cross Glacier National Park via the Going-to-the-Sun Road this summer, well, going later in the summer could increase the odds of success, as the seasonal opening of the road could be delayed a couple weeks.
Internal National Park Service documents obtained by the Traveler in late January detailed that Director Jon Jarvis told parks to immediately halt hiring permanent employees (though hires already in progress may continue). And while park managers could continue planning for seasonal workforces, they were directed not to extend any offers.
To further manage a 5 percent across-the-board cut, park managers also were told that non-essential travel is to be halted, overtime suspended, acquisitions of supplies and equipment are to be reduced, and on-staff employees who are subject to furlough should have their furlough periods extended to "the maximum length allowed..."
A survey of park staff now shows that those anticipated cuts could lead to closure of certain national park areas altogether or for extended period of times, closure of visitor centers and reduction in services, restrictions on the availability of campgrounds, visitor centers, comfort stations, and trail and other backcountry access. Additionally, the ability to respond to emergencies including wildland fires will be sharply reduced.
A sampling of parks shows the following reductions are being eyed if the sequestration is not averted:
* Yellowstone in northwestern Wyoming will delay spring road opening operations inside the park and to the west, south, east, and northeast entrances. Access from the west (from US 20 & 191 West Yellowstone, Montana), from the south (US 287/89, Jackson, Wyoming through Grand Teton National Park) and the east (US 20, Cody, Wyoming) would be delayed two to three weeks. Access from the northeast via the Chief Joseph Highway (near Cody, Wyoming) and Beartooth Highway (near Red Lodge, Montana) would be delayed three to four weeks. Visitor access to Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake would be delayed two to three weeks. Combined, these delays will affect over 78,000 visitors, reduce park fee revenue by more than $150,000 and have significant economic impacts to concessioners and gateway communities.
* Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona will delay opening the East and West Rim Drives and reduce hours of operation at the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center. This will immediately affect over 250,000 visitors. Grand Canyon receives approximately five million visitors annually.
* Yosemite National Park in California will delay the opening of the Tioga and Glacier Point roads by as much as four weeks due to limitations on snow removal resulting from reduced staffing which will impact thousands of visitors.
* Glacier National Park in Montana will delay opening the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks, the only road which provides access across the park.
* Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming will close the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, and the Flagg Ranch Visitor Contact Station, for the summer season affecting more than 300,000 visitors. Additionally, the park’s cooperating association, the Grand Teton Association will lose $225,000 in sales revenue as a result of the closures.
* Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee will close five campgrounds and picnic areas affecting over 54,000 visitors. Additionally, the reduction in staff will result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses to activities such as accidents, rockslides, ice, and hazardous tree removal for more than 35,000 vehicles per day on several heavily travelled routes in the Cades Cove District as well as the thoroughfares between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.
* Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts will close the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown for the season due to inability to staff and maintain it. Normal operating hours are daily, early May through late October. This closure will affect over 260,000 visitors. Additionally, visitor access to large sections of the Great Beach will be reduced and restricted in order to protect the nesting shorebirds. The nesting birds require daily monitoring, which a reduced staff could not provide.
* Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee will see a reduction in seasonal employees that will cause closure of 25 comfort stations one day per week, affecting more than 200,000 visitors.
* Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state will close the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center due to inability to staff and maintain it, affecting upwards of 85,000 visitors.
* Denali National Park in Alaska will have seasonal staff shortages, resulting in delayed plowing operations of Denali's spring road, postponing the opening of the Eielson Visitor Center. This would impact over 3,500 visitors per day and would significantly affect revenue for local businesses.
At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which surveyed the parks for this information, spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo said "This foolhardy path tarnishes America’s ‘crown jewels’ and is a repudiation of the nation’s national parks often touted as ‘America’s best idea’. Millions of Americans depend on national parks for their vacations and livelihood. Those Americans are being told that national parks don’t count … that people who use national parks don’t count … and that people who live and work near national parks don’t count.”