By David Graves
As we rapidly approach the March 1 edge of the fiscal cliff, or government sequestration, details about how these across-the-board cuts could affect our national parks are beginning to emerge.
Last week, a leaked National Park Service document spelled out budget-cutting scenarios facing a handful of our 398 national parks, including Mount Rainier, one of our country’s crown jewels. A 5 percent cut could force Mount Rainier National Park to permanently close its Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, which would affect up to 85,000 annual visitors. Across our country, a 5 percent cut would lead to reductions in seasonal employees, loss of campground staff, slashes to education programs, and, in some cases, permanent closures of visitor centers and other facilities.
In addition to the 5 percent cut, it is important to note that our national parks are already doing more with less. Adding a 5 percent, or $110 million cut to our national parks, on top of current budget reductions, would have a severe impact. National parks are not part of our funding problem – they provide funding solutions, locally in Washington and throughout the nation. For every dollar invested in our national parks, they return an average of $10 to local economies.
A national park visit does not simply just include the personal experiences gained. Meals are purchased, campground or hotel reservations are secured, cars are filled with gasoline, new hiking boots are acquired, and so on. The National Park Service released new data this week, reporting that the 12 national park sites in Washington welcomed more than 7.5 million visitors last year. And the most recent economic data notes that national park visitors infused Washington with $261 million in 2011. Collectively, our national parks generated $30.1 billion in economic activity and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide in 2011. To further slash funding for an agency whose budget is less than 1/14th of 1 percent of the entire federal budget is a foolish, short term decision that would do long-term damage to local economies across the country.
As the northwest program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, it is easy to say that I have a professional bias. However, I am also a husband who enjoys spending a winter’s day snowshoeing at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park with my wife as we hope for the mountain to pop out of the clouds. And now, as a new father, I treasure the time I have to take my son through the park’s Grove of the Patriarchs and watch him stare in awe at ancient and enormous Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and western red cedars. As a young boy with my parents and brother and now with a family of my own, the opportunities to camp at Cougar Rock or White River and hike to Summerland or on the Naches Peak Loop are experiences I will never forget. These are also experiences I want my son to be able to share with his children and grandchildren. For these reasons and millions more, our leaders must find a solution that protects our national treasures.
David G. Graves is the northwest program manager for National Parks Conservation Association in Seattle.