Press Release

May 23, 2013

Sequester Takes Toll on National Parks, Visitors & Communities

Issues: Gas Prices, National Wildlife Refuges

As Summer Vacations Approach, Report Details Sequester Budget Cuts at 23 National Parks

WASHINGTON (May 23, 2013) – Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest times of the year for the National Park System, which includes natural treasures like the Grand Canyon and dozens of military sites and memorials. This upcoming weekend, however, vacationing families and visitorsmay notice some unwelcome changes as they head to the national parks. A new report, released today by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), draws from direct interviews with the managers of our national parks to provide an on-the-ground view of the damage done by the sequester to America’s national parks.

The report shows that the sequester is forcing national parks to cut their hours of operation and visitor services, close or delay the opening of roads, campgrounds and facilities, and defer or forgo maintenance of buildings, exhibits and other infrastructure. Communities near national parks also could pay a steep price if visitation drops because of these cuts. Visitors in 2011 spent an estimated $30 billion nationally, supporting more than 250,000 jobs and generating $9.3 billion in labor income. 

The full report can be found HERE.

“National parks are known as America’s best idea,” said Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “But America’s best idea is now under attack by one of America’s worst ideas, the sequester. Republicans in Congress who forced these painful cuts to our national parks are looking for someone else to blame. It’s time they accept responsibility for their actions and immediately restore funding to our national parks and other vital job-creating programs by ending the sequester. Members of Congress and past presidents of both political parties supported and nurtured our national parks for more than a century. The sequester is a betrayal of that commitment.”

The Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee interviewed superintendents or top deputies at 23 parks in the National Park System to learn what cuts they are making in response to the sequester and why they have chosen those cuts. The report, titled “America’s Best Idea Meets America’s Worst Idea: Sequester Takes Toll on National Parks, Visitors & Communities,” summarizes the sequester plan for each of these parks, which represent a sampling of different park types and sizes.

As part of Memorial Day weekend, Americans will pay tribute to the men and women who died serving their country in the U.S. armed forces. The report profiles a number of parks with military sites and memorials, including War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam, which preserves World War II battlefields; Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia, which commemorates four major battles of the American Civil War; Ninety Six National Historic Site in South Carolina, where two Revolutionary War battles were fought; and Boston National Historical Park, which includes the Charlestown Navy Yard and sites related to the Revolutionary War. All of these parks are cutting back on educational programming for visitors or school groups.

The report found that because of the sequester:

Most parks have had to close facilities, delay openings or reduce hours of operation. Glacier National Park, for example, is reducing the number of days and hours that its visitor centers operate, and also is opening later or closing earlier (or both) at nine campgrounds.

Most parks are offering fewer educational opportunities and other special programming. Cape Cod National Seashore, for example, is canceling guided walks, educational talks and other interpretive programs, which have previously attracted 49,000 visitors a year.

Parks will not be as clean and well maintained. Grand Canyon National Park, for example, will reduce its cleaning of restrooms by half, from twice a day to once a day.

Parks have less capacity to handle emergency or law enforcement situations. For example, Bryce Canyon National Park, which responded to 1,100 emergency events last year, has had to cut back on search-and-rescue and law enforcement capabilities.

Park repairs and maintenance projects are being delayed or deferred.Great Smoky National Park, for example, has experienced delays in repairs of roads that were washed out in January flooding.

Parks are reducing environmental monitoring. Everglades National Park, for example, is reducing monitoring programs for the park’s endangered and threatened species.

Park superintendents interviewed for the report said they were directed by Park Service leadership to minimize visitor impacts in developing their sequester plans. However, the size of the sequester cuts and the staff reductions required to meet those cuts meant that visitor impacts could not be avoided, especially following other cuts that parks have endured over the last several years, the superintendents said.

This finding refutes Republican accusations that the Obama administration made intentionally painful cuts at the national parks in order to build public opposition against the sequester. Indeed, the closures, delayed openings, reduced visitor services, and other adverse impacts highlighted in the report are the inevitable consequences of the budget cuts Republicans have forced.