Guest Post: What You Can Do to Help Our National Parks

Beautiful Dark Hollow Falls in
Shenandoah National Park.
National Parks are among our most treasured and valuable resources, but the possibility of widespread budget cuts threaten the already stretched national park budgets. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) Budget and Appropriations Legislative Representative John Garder explains why we should be worried, and what we can do about it.

Imagine you’re on your dream national park backpacking trip. You’ve been planning for months, but when you arrive, the trails are poorly maintained and it’s difficult to find a ranger to answer your questions. Or maybe you’re planning to explore the history of the Civil War.

You've been looking forward to a Park Service interpretive ranger who can bring that history alive, but haven’t seen a single ranger since the visitor center. Now that you think about it, it was awfully quiet in that visitor center...

These scenarios will not be hard to imagine if Congress fails to find a way to come to agreement on addressing our deficit issues. By Thanksgiving, a congressional “supercommittee” process to address the deficit must make progress, or else it will trigger across-the-board spending cuts to begin next year and scheduled to last a decade. Those cuts would be extraordinarily damaging to national park budgets. Rangers during the busy season? Good luck finding them. Campfire talks for your kids? Think again. Maintaining the bathrooms or even keeping parks open at all will be a challenge if this process—known as “sequestration”—is triggered.

A new report by the National Parks Conservation Association, called Made in America: Investing in National Parks for Our Heritage and Our Economy, details the deeply damaging impacts these cuts would have at parks across the country. But the story doesn’t end there. The deficit debate has been going on for some time, and an agreement Congress reached in August already put spending caps in place that are likely to challenge national parks for the next decade.

Because seasonal rangers—the temporary staff who serve visitors and maintain our parks during peak season—are often the first place that park superintendents can go to make ends meet, next summer may mean that you will see less of them. Finding money for things like educational programs or campfire talks will be challenging. So, national parks are already looking at challenges for the next decade, even without another round of cuts.

Making Do Without Enough

As the report details, national parks are already making do each year with $500 to $600 million less than they need to adequately protect our national treasures and serve visitors. And maintenance issues continue to fester. The National Park Service (NPS) is tasked with caring for historic treasures like Civil War cannons and presidents’ birthplaces, in addition to historic buildings, roads, interpretive signs, trails, visitor centers, even places like the Statue of Liberty, all of which require maintenance.

Many of these projects are put on hold for lack of funds. This backlog of deferred maintenance projects just keeps growing and is now nearly $11 billion, yet Congress is short $325 million each year to even keep up with it. Despite this challenge, the construction budget for the NPS has been cut by 60% over the last decade. Funding for the NPS to prevent development threats within the borders of our national parks is also threatened.

Economic Benefits of the Parks

National parks are not just places for adventure, to explore our natural wonders and our nation’s history. They are places that contribute to local economies, providing more than $4 in return for every dollar invested. They’re ensuring more than $13 billion in direct private sector-spending each year, creating nearly 270,000 jobs. They’re drawing visitors from around the world to invest in our local economies, and they’re providing affordable vacations for American families struggling to make ends meet. Further cutting national park budgets won’t make a dent in our deficit because the budget for all 397 of our national parks comprises 1/13th of one percent of our federal budget.

What You Can Do to Make a Difference

This is the time for decisions to be made on national priorities. With the National Park Service 2016 centennial in mind, 85% 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, according to recent polling by Hart Research Associates. Our decision-makers must understand the importance of national parks to our economic well-being, and to protecting these places for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. 

So, what can you do to help? A great first step is contacting your members of Congress and telling them not to cut funding for national parks. If you haven’t contacted your members before, it’s pretty easy, satisfying and worth a few minutes of your time. Here’s how you do it:
  • Find your two senators’ contact information by clicking here and choosing your state. 
  • Call their offices and – importantly – say that you are a constituent, and that you want to register a concern. 
  • Tell them that you are concerned about national parks and do not want the budget for the National Park Service to be cut further. 
  • They will ask for your name and address, and you are done in less than five minutes. 
Post author John
has great ideas on
how to get involved!
Then, repeat the process for the House. Go to http://www.house.gov, where you can look up your Representative by state, find their number and do the same. If you don’t know your representative, no worries! That’s the case for plenty of people. Simply, put in your zip code in the space they provide, insert that in the House tool, and boom! You’ve got your representative, can give them a quick call, and now you have what you need to voice your concerns any time you feel strongly about an issue!

NPCA helps facilitate this process so you can send an email to decision-makers, which is quicker, though it doesn’t have the same impact as a phone call. We have had action alerts on this issue before and will do so again soon. Please sign up to help NPCA educate policymakers on this and other issues at www.npca.org/take_action.

Comments

John & Katie - Thanks so much for writing and sharing this information. I was able to visit about 24 of our National Parks and Monuments over the past year and can't imagine what it would be like to have less camping, less information, poorly marked and maintained trails, etc. Our National Park Service is an amazing resource that has been enjoyed by my grandparents (and great-grandparents) and passed along to me (and I hope to pass along as well).

The outdoor world is vital to our health as individuals and as a nation. I will be contacting my reps for sure. Thanks again. :)