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Op-Ed: Let's Compromise To Support The National Parks


Rob Smith, NPCA's Pacific Northwest Region director.

There is a place to start coming together on the federal budget, and Sen. Patty Murray is well-suited to lead the way as chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee and a leader in the current, difficult budget negotiations. Shutting down the government — and our national parks — is simply not a reasonable choice.

In addition to disrupting long-planned vacations, relocating weddings, and spoiling other events, communities surrounding Olympic National Park lost nearly $4 million in visitor spending during the shutdown. Businesses surrounding Mount Rainier lost up to $1 million. But the shutdown was part of a long-term trend of broken budgeting harming national parks and threatening the visitor experience and the economic health of surrounding communities.

Our national parks offer an instructive lesson about why budget brinksmanship and the indiscriminate across-the-board sequester cuts demand a new approach. Sen. Murray is choosing the right fight in seeking a compromise that will end this damaging policy.

While the entrances to our national parks have been reopened, there are still “closed” signs on some campgrounds, visitor centers and historic structures and nearly 2,000 fewer rangers to help visitors due to sequestration. The ever-shrinking budget — down 13 percent since 2010 just to operate our national parks — is shortsighted and unsustainable.

Studies show that our national parks generate a $10 return for every $1 invested. National parks in Washington state alone support more than 3,800 jobs and produce upwards of $260 million in economic activity, according to 2011 reports.

It’s time to reinvest in our heritage. Nine in 10 voters — Republican, Democrat and Independent — do not want national park funding cut. Sen. Murray has reflected this bipartisan support with a budget that allows room for investing in national parks, which enjoy broad support, are economically important and are being harmed by the sequester.

Time will tell if the budget conferees also take this common ground into consideration and find the compromise necessary to end the damaging sequester.

Rob Smith is the Northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. This essay first appeared in The Olympian.


Beachdumb, I do see your point, I remember a Park Service director once telling us at an employees meeting, it cannot be a park unless people are allowed to enjoy it. It has always been part of the NPS mission to provide for the enjoyment of the park visitor, but in such a way that the park resources (plants, animals, birds, historic buildings, etc), remain unimpaired for future generations. That is the congressional mandate that is the fundamental guideline for NPS managers. Its a tough call, it was easier when I first started in Yosemite in 1960, for example the new Tioga Road had not been completed, visitation at Tuolumne Meadows that summer was 25,000 people. Here in 2013, its is a million and half and growing. The growth of our population and resulting competition for the resources and/or use of the facilities in many areas calls for restrictions that I, and perhaps yourself and others, are not to happy about. But I do think its needs to be done.

Rick, thanks for the warm wishes. Unfortunately we are all living in the misery created by the rise of liberalism and it's corruption of the NPS. I am just trying to undo what I can so future generations can enjoy the parks like I did when common sense, pro access, and pro visitor were priorities of the NPS.

We should push harder for states to take over management of our parks and just maybe the NPS will get a clue. It would be an economic boom to localities that depend on the parks if the NPS were removed, no one can refute that.

Thank you Traveler for the post. I certainly hope this idea of turning over our National Parks to the states does not gain much momentum. I am a big fan of state parks, that is not the issue to me. Our National Parks are national in scope, they belong to citizens of all states. It is important that national policy prevail here, not just local community, county or state policy.It is also important to remember the local citizens in the gateway communities, the last governmental (partial) shutdown hurt a lot of people, both in government and in the private sector in these communities, but the National Parks belong to all US citizens. We have the money to do it, it is just the austerity, turn the clocks back to the 1920's crowd that is promoting this in my own view of the issue.

Young's bill looks like it still doesn't have any co-sponsors. However, "Provide Access and Retain Continuity Act (PARC)” (H.R. 3311) has 17 co-sponsors. This bill seems to be a slightly different version of Young's bill.

Will this blow fresh wind into Rep. Don Young's proposal to allow states to take over management of national parks?

I sure hope not.

That's why it's important for Senator Murray and Represenative Ryan (who is actually the CHAIRMAN of this conference committee, a fact also left deliberately unsaid by the misleading NPCA opinion piece)

I'm not sure why you find this piece misleading. I think it is pretty factual.

Just an FYI, Murry and Ryan are both the Chair of their respective committees and leaders of this committee, though Murray, being both senior and in the Senate, which has 22 memebers on the committee to the House's 7, is probably considered more the head of the joint-committee than Ryan.

=== deleted as it wouldn't have helped===

Careful folks, let's be a little careful. We seem to be losing the "constructiveness" of the dialog....

Sadly, it doesn't seem likely at this point that any compromise will be reached in the budget talks. As a result, we're likely to see more and more releases such as the one from Lassen Volcanic about the closing of its visitors center through the winter. What will be the next cutback? Some might shrug at a shuttered visitor center, but what if some parks institute rolling closures ... three days closed, four days open, three days closed, four days open.

Will states start complaining to their congressional representatives and demand that they be allowed to staff the parks as some states did back in October? Will this blow fresh wind into Rep. Don Young's proposal to allow states to take over management of national parks?

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