Reader Participation Day: What Impacts On The National Parks Have You Noticed From The Budget Sequestration?

In your travels through the National Park System this summer, have you noticed any impacts from the budget sequestration? If so, how did they impact your visit?

Earlier this year there were dire warnings regarding how the National Park Service would absorb the cuts. But how visible have they been, and have they affected your visit to the parks?

Going forward, do you have any concerns if the cuts are left intact in the next fiscal year's budget?

Comments

I have noticed some changes.

As part of trip planning, I typically request that parks mail me brochures prior to my visits. Several parks have been hesitant to send them, even at the minimal expense of stamps. I've never run into that before.

Hours of operation at many of the parks have been reduced somewhat, which has made visiting some of them more difficult. Plowing, daylight hours, visitor centers, etc...

Lastly, and this is not travel related, but job postings on USAjobs.gov have dried up almost entirely. Even then, the jobs that do come up are almost exclusivly part-time or seasonal, as hiring has frozen.

I haven't traveled as much this year as I typically do, so I doubt that I've seen the full impact of the sequester, however despite that limited travel even I have noticed these changes.

Based on discussions with several people in several areas, I'm afraid the effects will not be obvious. They will be hidden in plain view, but will not be easily recognized by the general public. What worries me most are the probable impacts some of these cuts will have to the resources themselves. Building maintenance, trail maintenance, historic preservation, and a host of other categories where damage will occur due to still more "benign neglect" will take a toll that will certainly be worse in the long run than missing a few interpretive programs.

The NPS was already in the hole (at least in our field areas) long before sequestration hit. Sequestration is yet one more in a long list of abuses heaped upon our parks by our benevolent Congress. Playing political games with our parks is a favorite Washington sport.

I came away from a summer of travel with even greater respect for those administrative, maintenance and ranger personnel in the field who are going far beyond the call of duty to try to keep our parks up and running in good condition.

At least one park apparently had the...um, foresight to stockpile human resources and reduce services in advance of the budget cut. The table following this story reports Mount Rainier going from 119 to 159 permanent positions prior to sequestration (2012-2013):

http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/08/18/2736829/slowly-steadily-the-job-market.html

Despite a 33% staff increase that year, and despite having to plow the road daily anyway, in November the park announced a Tu-W (28%) public closure of the road to Paradise for the winter via Twitter. Several weeks later they held two public meetings during work hours far from population centers, where we were assured this reduction of half-century-old access was not due to the looming sequestration. The actual reason was never very clear among the shifting explanations and poor performance on theoretically open days. In my opinion, this policy was a trial balloon for further winter access restrictions in the future.

Local businesses reported decreased traffic on winter Mondays and Thursdays as well. Perhaps the least affected were the climbing concessions, which had vehicle access for their expensive winter seminars on days the public was excluded, as they have had for years during the many previous closures.

When the dire, dreaded day of March 1st, 2013 finally dawned, management's announced response was to shorten campgound seasons, keep the small Ohanapecosh visitor center closed for the summer, and get this, not fill vacant permanent positions:

http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/05/19/2603099/impact-of-budget-cuts-will-be.html

Paradise is a former world-record snowfall station. It often snows well into June and didn't melt away until this July. Locals joke there are only two seasons, winter and Labor Day weekend. The park must plow the road all winter so that Glacier Bridge and the recent fifty-million dollar infrastructure upgrades at Paradise are not damaged or destroyed by the weight of snow. This past winter's snowpack was still getting deeper when the weekday road closure policy was suddenly ended March 26th. At least the part about not being due to sequestration was transparent.

Mount Rainier has one of the highest Road Mile / Square Mile ratios of any western park. It might also be the dubious leader in number of days the public is excluded from those roads, while administrative use is standard and extensive. Unreliable access is the main reason November through April park visitation has declined from about 275,000 twenty years ago to less than half that figure. And park management has the nerve to use that lower visitation as a justifcation (along with "critical vacancies" & "skeleton crews") for further reducing access?

Too bad the next round of NPS budget cuts won't be applied from the top down, but will fall once again on those who actually range, answer questions, and maintain things.


Sequestration is yet one more in a long list of abuses heaped upon our parks by our benevolent Congress. Playing political games with our parks is a favorite Washington sport.


Lee - you seem to be missing the whole point of sequestration. This is not playing "political games with our parks". It is trying to drive home the dire circumstances of our country's finances - while doing a minimal job of addressing them at the same time. Sequestration hasn't singled out the parks - it applies to most aspects of our government. Think beyond your own back yard. You blame me for wanting "entitlements" yet it is you that can't look beyond your own self interest for the good of the country.

Would I like to see the parks get more money - absolutely. Do I think it is more important to get our country on the right financial track - even more certainly. If our country doesn't get its financial act in order, the parks don't stand a chance. I know, cutting the parks alone isn't going to fix the problem. But it just might wake of some of those with the real "entitlement mentality" that we have a problem. As Margaret Thatcher once said "Socialism is great until you run out of someone else's money".

EC, I actually agree with much of what you just said. But I'll stand by the comment that Congress plays politics with our parks. Let me add to that, however, that Congress plays politics with virtually everything, and as a result they manage to screw up even a trip to the bathroom.

Yes, we DO need to get our financial act together, but trying to do it while kowtowing to powerful special interests so they may maintain their taxpayer paid subsidies at the expense of the rest of us is just plain wrong. Congress is a great example of modern American socialism -- Socialize expenses; privatize profits.

Our national crises go far beyond just our national debt. But how do ordinary people stand a chance against the organized, powerful, wealthy pus of corruption that infests our capitol? If Congress is, as you say, trying to drive home the dire circumstances of our finances, why not at least make a sincere effort to actually solve the underlying causes of that circumstance?

At Oshkosh, I repeatedly witnessed people who fly airplanes that cost several millions to purchase and thousands of dollars per hour to fly demonstrating their sense of entitlement when they had hissy fits over a proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration to start charging for air traffic control services for instrument flight plans. YOU are paying the bill to allow those folks to fly their machines safely. And every time one of them files IFR from New York to Chicago to watch a football game -- or conduct some business -- it costs all of us. Is it unreasonable to ask them to pay something like $25 for services they and they alone use?

I've repeatedly tried to make clear that ALL of us -- you, me, our neighbors, businesses large and small, are ALL in some way demanding that our wishes -- our demands for services to which we feel entitled -- are ALL equally guilty of the mess we are in.

And until we ALL are willing to become part of the solution, we will continue to be part of the problem.


Socialize expenses; privatize profits.


One of your favorite sayings but don't see its validity. I suppose your Oshkosh story was supposed to be an example. Don't all users of an airport pay a "gate" fee? Doesn't some of that fee then go to FAA? What is the incremental cost to the FAA of a private flight? I don't know any of those answers but suspect that any "subsidy" is miniscule compared to the cost of many of our counter productive social programs.

{edit} As I suspected, your characterization of private flights not paying into the FAA was inaccurate. http://www.aopa.org/Advocacy/GA-Caucus/FAA-funding-and-general-aviation-taxes/FAA-Funding-Debate-Funding {end edit}

I too am frustrated by the lack of action by our Congress. But I believe that inaction is the result of a strong dichotomy between those that are giving and those that are taking. Until those that are taking realize the money isn't endless, we aren't going to make any progress. I fear it will take a catastrophic event to get us back on course - and when that happens, the parks will be one of the last things people are worried about.

At the local level I see several positions which this park needs filled, unfilled. Of course, I'm told that it is for the greater national good.

That's hokum. What is spare change at the national level makes a world of difference at street level.

It sounds noble and macro, but where I come from they spread that on alfalfa to help it grow taller.


That's hokum. What is spare change at the national level makes a world of difference at street level.


And that is just the kind of thinking that has us in this hole in the first place.

The partisan bickering on this site is a real turn-off.

It's 5 percent. Get over it.

According to the FY14 NPS Greenbook, Mount Rainier had a total of 179 FTEs in FY12(ONPS-132). Of those 179 FTEs, 118 were funded by the park's base operating dollars. Mount Rainier's operating budget was $12.2M for FY 2012. The FY12 NPS Greenbook lists Mount Rainier as having 204 FTEs in FY 2010, 118 funded by base ops(ONPS-193).

According to a May 2013 on the Bonny Lake Courier-Herald website, Rainier had a budget of $12.08M for 2012. Of that $12.08M, 5% was for program support(HR & Inventory and Monitoring) that Rainier provided for other parks in the region. So that for FY 2012, Rainier had ~$11.4M for its own operations. The article also states that 78-80% of the base funding is used for personnel and there are 110 permanent positions(12 currently vacant).

Given all this, it seems likely to me that those 40 hires are being funded by something other than the ops budget. I would think that positions funded by other funds would not necessarily be long-term permanent hires despite the impression that the New Tribune article gives.

http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/budget.htm

http://www.blscourierherald.com/news/207134281.html

My wife and I camped at Cataloochee in GRSM this June. I had planned on doing some hikes via the Caldwell Fork Trail, but three of the log bridges had been knocked out by storms. A sign at the trailhead said they would "not be replaced until further notice." I don't know if this was a direct effect of sequestration or budget cuts in general, but it was pretty disappointing.