Just ahead of the Memorial Day Weekend, the traditional kickoff to summer, a Democratic congressman has released a report pointing to how the budget sequestration has impacted the National Park System, citing reduced search-and-rescue capabilities in some parks to dirtier restrooms in others.
"Because of recent sequester cuts ... parks are closing or delaying the opening of roads, campgrounds and facilities, reducing their hours of operation and visitor services, and deferring or forgoing maintenance, all of which threatens to reduce the number of visitors who spend money in nearby communities," reads the report issued today by U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. "Simply put, America’s best idea is under attack by America’s worst idea."
Park Service Director Jon Jarvis earlier this year warned of such reductions in services, saying the 5 percent across-the-board cut to the agency's budget would impact visitor services, shorten hours of operation, and possibly even close areas to the public.
The congressman's 31-page report offers capsules on how parks across the country have reduced services to absorb cuts mandated by the budget sequestration.
* At Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia, a $200,000 cut means "the park will not hire any seasonal workers and will not fill 11 vacant permanent positions, representing a 23 percent reduction in staff. The park expects additional volunteer help, but it already depends on the equivalent of 15 full-time employees (FTEs) in volunteers."
Additionally, the park that preserves Civil War battlefields has cut educational programming by 70 percent, the report notes, and the Jackson Shrine, a memorial to Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, is closed five days a week.
* At Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, the loss of $1.3 million means 11 currently vacant permanent positions will remain unfilled, five fewer seasonal positions will be filled, restrooms will be cleaned less frequently, and Fort Point National Historic Site, a fort completed just before the Civil War to defend the San Francisco Bay, will be open six days a week during summer and just two days a week during the off-season.
* Grand Canyon National Park officials in Arizona had to cut $1.6 million from their budget, a loss of funding that means visitor center hours are being trimmed two hours per day, bathrooms are being cleaned just once a day instead of twice, and interpretive programs are being cut by a third on the South Rim and by half on the North Rim.
* The loss of more than $160,000 means Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah will have fewer rangers to conduct search-and-rescue operations.
* At Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, the loss of nearly $1 million has forced the closure of some campgrounds this summer, 10 other campgrounds and five horse camps are opening a month later than usual, and backcountry ranger patrols are being reduced.
* At Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts, the loss of $414,220 has forced park officials to defer cleaning, repair, and maintenance of four museum exhibits, the number of guided trolly tours are being reduced, and a theater program that employs 10 youth from the area's recent immigrant population has been canceled.
In compiling the report, the Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee interviewed superintendents or top deputies at 23 parks in the National Park System. In the report's narrative, the staff noted that "(P)ark superintendents interviewed for this report said they were directed to minimize visitor impacts to every extent possible in developing their sequester plans. However, the size of the sequester cuts and the staff reductions required to meet those cuts meant that some visitor impacts could not be avoided, especially following other cuts that parks have endured over the last several years."
"This finding refutes Republican accusations that the Obama administration made intentionally painful cuts at the national parks in order to build public opposition against the sequester," the narrative continues. "In fact, the parks profiled in this report show that closures, delayed openings, reduced visitor services, and other adverse impacts are the inevitable consequences of the budget cuts Republicans have forced."
In a press release accompanying the repor, Congressman Markey said that, “National parks are known as America’s best idea, but America’s best idea is now under attack by one of America’s worst ideas, the sequester."
"Republicans in Congress who forced these painful cuts to our national parks are looking for someone else to blame. It’s time they accept responsibility for their actions and immediately restore funding to our national parks and other vital job-creating programs by ending the sequester," he continued. "Members of Congress and past presidents of both political parties supported and nurtured our national parks for more than a century. The sequester is a betrayal of that commitment.”