Already-strapped national parks face ‘fiscal cliff’ fallout
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org December 23, 2012 12:06AM
Lynn McClure, right, speaks during a brief press conference at West Beach Monday Sept. 26, 2011. McClure, midwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, joined other speakers in offering the results of a new report featuring recommendations for improving visitor experience and regional support at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 24, 2013 6:45AM
Advocates of the national parks are worried what walking off the federal “fiscal cliff” would cost local economies, estimating about $200 million could be cut from the National Park Service.
As congressional leaders and President Barack Obama continue to negotiate details of a debt-reduction policy, organizations like the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) warn that not reaching an agreement will hurt the parks and local economies.
The National Park Service faces an 8.3 percent cut in park budgets, with a current budget of about $2.6 billion. This is on top of a long decrease in funding over the past decade dropping from $3.04 billion in 2002.
“Our national parks will face a tough decade ahead,” said Craig Obey, senior vice president of the NPCA. “They cannot afford additional cuts after two consecutive years of cuts and a budget in today’s dollars that is 15 percent less than it was a decade ago.”
The cuts could result in a loss of up to 9,000 seasonal park ranger jobs and close 200 park sites, according to Obey.
Joan Anzelmo of the CNPSR said that the National Park Service has limited options to cut, and any choice will hamper the services provided to visitors.
“Sadly, the one area you have a little wiggle room is the seasonal employees,” Anzelmo said. “If it gets really tough you have to look at closing facilities.”
Anzelmo also said cuts could also reduce law enforcement staff to protect the visitors, delay maintenance to park infrastructure and facilities, or close entire parks indefinitely.
Cutting the park service could also hamper the local economies that surround the parks. According to a study in 2010 by Michigan State University, every dollar invested in National Park Service operations generates $10 in gross sales revenue in local economies, and every two NPS jobs support one private-sector job.
“They generate about $31 billion in private-sector spending,” Anzelmo said, “and 258,000 private-sector jobs.”
Recent studies show that 92 percent of American voters believe funding for the park system should either remain where it is, or increase.
Indiana is home to three sites run by the National Park Service: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park and Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. It’s unclear how the cuts could affect each park, but Lynn McClure, the Midwest regional director of the NPCA, said she’s sure funding cut would cause problems for visitors to the National Lakeshore.
“I can’t imagine the park closing,” she said, “but it’ll be a nightmare to manage with the reductions. And Indiana Dunes has a lot of seasonal rangers. That’s going to affect a lot of people who work in the summer. It’s going to have an impact.”