Sequestration Could Hit National Parks at Height of Tourism Season

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Beth Harpaz/AP

The U.S. National Park Service could face serious staffing shortfalls if across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration kick in on March 1, and tourists would likely lose access to some popular attractions.

In a policy memo released to the Washington Post on Wednesday, NPS said sequestration would force the agency to cut into its already slim operating budget. The automatic cuts would slice off an immediate 5 percent from the agency’s budget that would “defer the replacement of vacant staff positions,” reduce temporary seasonal hiring, and cause the furloughs of permanent staff if cost reduction targets are not met, the memo said. The cuts would also reduce the amount of money spent on park maintenance, equipment purchases, travel and educational programs.

“Most parks have already minimized expenses in these categories over the past few years and will not be able to achieve significant savings in this area,” the memo said.

All 398 national parks are determining the specific impact of budget cuts on their operations, the memo said, warning that major attractions would need to reduce staff and hours at the peak of the summer tourist season.

Popular destinations that would be affected by sequestratrion budget cuts include:  

  • Cape Cod, where a visitor center servicing 260,000 tourists annually would be shuttered.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where 5 campgrounds would be closed.
  • Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone National Park, where the opening of new roads and visitor service centers would be delayed.
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway, where fewer seasonal rangers at visitor centers would be hired, possibly affecting 584,000 visitors.

While the memo did not elaborate on potential economic repercussions, they are likely to be steep. A 2010 paper published by the NPS and Michigan State University said that tourism spending at national parks contributed to $31 billion in economic activity, affecting nearly 300,000 jobs nationally.

John Garder, a government affairs representative at the National Parks Conservation Association, said the cuts would disproportionately affect local economies that depend on tourism money. He said NPS has been grappling with underfunding for years and sequestration would erode the service that the American people expect from their parks.

“This sequester was never intended to be policy, and American families will be deeply disappointed if this becomes a reality,” Garder said. “National parks are not part of the deficit problem, and given all the jobs they’re supporting, they are part of the solution.”

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