As Washington policymakers await action by the Congressional Super Committee, the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a new report yesterday titled “Made in America: Investing in National Parks for Our Heritage and Our Economy,” which details how national parks and visitors could be impacted if the Super Committee fails and mandatory across-the-board cuts are made to the federal budget. The report also finds that investing in national parks not only protects our national heritage, but is critical to supporting the livelihood of businesses and communities across the country.
The report focuses on 12 parks as case studies, including the Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway and Cumberland Gap.
The report mentions that the Smokies has become the fifth-largest beneficiary of volunteers in the National Park System, with 2,400 volunteers donating 124,000 hours to the park in 2008 alone. They also mention that the adopt-a-trail and adopt-a-campsite programs have been particularly important in maintaining the park’s 800-mile trail system.
Ten years ago, the Blue Ridge Parkway had 240 permanent positions to manage the scenic drive. Today, BRP can afford to fill only 170 of those, leaving a third of the maintenance department unstaffed.
“If the Super Committee process fails there will be real consequences for our national parks, jobs, visitors, and communities across the country,” said Craig Obey, NPCA senior vice president of government affairs. “The federal deficit debate should be about smart budgeting that strengthens communities, produces jobs, and protects the heritage that binds us as a national community.”
As the federal deficit reduction committee approaches its November 23 deadline, NPCA is calling on Congress to make wise investments in programs that are economic drivers for communities nationwide. If the committee fails, the process of sequestration could result in across-the-board discretionary cuts of 9 percent—a cut of about $231 million for our national parks. This would unquestionably be devastating for many national parks, visitors, and the communities and businesses that depend on them.
“Of course we need to fix our deficit problems. But cutting national parks budgets will have about as much impact on the deficit as a bucket full of rocks would have on filling the Grand Canyon, and it would cost jobs, hurt communities, and mar our national heritage,” said Obey.
According to a recent NPCA study, every federal dollar invested in national parks generates at least four dollars of economic value to the public. National parks support $13.3 billion of direct local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs. Cuts to park operations, construction and land acquisition could mean direct job losses and impair the places that American families rely on as affordable vacation destinations each year.
“As a two-term mayor for a county that is a gateway to one of the most visited national parks in the system, the Great Smoky Mountains, it was abundantly clear to me how critically important national parks are to local economies such as ours,” said Iliff McMahan, former Mayor of Cocke County in Tennessee. “In a challenging economy, we must maintain a capital investment in the future of our parks; it’s just smart business. And we owe it to our children to protect that legacy.”
Recent polling shows that 85 percent of voters surveyed favor giving national parks enough funding so they are fully restored and ready to serve the public for the next 100 years, as evidenced by the more than 100,000 people who recently signed a petition calling on Congress to protect park budgets.
I fully support properly funding our parks so that they can continue to operate. However, given the dire nature of our national debt and the budget situation, one has to wonder why we continue to expand the National Park System. Just this past week two new parks were added to the system: Fort Monroe National Monument and Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. Right now 4% of the NPS budget is allocated towards land acquisition. 10 years ago, it was 12% of the budget. I understand that many of those dollars over the years have been used to purchase lands adjacent to existing parks, etc. But many of those dollars were used to purchase brand new parks and monuments. To me this appears to be highly irresponsible. If I were drowning in mortgage debt, I likely wouldn't be adding new rooms to my house.
I'll repeat what I've said in the past. I think parks should be allowed to become more creative in raising revenues that they are allowed to keep, instead of sending them back to the general coffers in Washington DC. Furthermore, I think we need to look at all 397 units of the National Park System and determine how many really belong, how many are truly worthy of national status, how many are truly profitable for the surrounding communities, how many can be absorbed and managed by state and local communities, how many could become privately protected such as Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's home) as an example. Is anyone in government doing any of this critical analysis before justifying more expenses for the American taxpayer?
To view a full copy of the report, please click here.