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Visitor Access To Yellowstone, Cape Cod, Grand Canyon, Other National Parks Could Be Limited By Looming Sequestration


Failure by Congress to avert a sweeping budget cut across all government agencies stands to cut your views of the Grand Canyon, limit your access to Cape Cod National Seashore's beaches, and delay the opening of Yellowstone National Park this spring.

And you might encounter troubles trying to navigate the Tioga Road in Yosemite National park or getting to Glacier Point to gaze down on the Yosemite Valley. Car crashes or downed trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park could clog traffic as response times lengthen due to lack of staff. And if you want to cross Glacier National Park via the Going-to-the-Sun Road this summer, well, going later in the summer could increase the odds of success, as the seasonal opening of the road could be delayed a couple weeks.

Internal National Park Service documents obtained by the Traveler in late January detailed that Director Jon Jarvis told parks to immediately halt hiring permanent employees (though hires already in progress may continue). And while park managers could continue planning for seasonal workforces, they were directed not to extend any offers.

To further manage a 5 percent across-the-board cut, park managers also were told that non-essential travel is to be halted, overtime suspended, acquisitions of supplies and equipment are to be reduced, and on-staff employees who are subject to furlough should have their furlough periods extended to "the maximum length allowed..."

A survey of park staff now shows that those anticipated cuts could lead to closure of certain national park areas altogether or for extended period of times, closure of visitor centers and reduction in services, restrictions on the availability of campgrounds, visitor centers, comfort stations, and trail and other backcountry access. Additionally, the ability to respond to emergencies including wildland fires will be sharply reduced.

A sampling of parks shows the following reductions are being eyed if the sequestration is not averted:

* Yellowstone in northwestern Wyoming will delay spring road opening operations inside the park and to the west, south, east, and northeast entrances. Access from the west (from US 20 & 191 West Yellowstone, Montana), from the south (US 287/89, Jackson, Wyoming through Grand Teton National Park) and the east (US 20, Cody, Wyoming) would be delayed two to three weeks. Access from the northeast via the Chief Joseph Highway (near Cody, Wyoming) and Beartooth Highway (near Red Lodge, Montana) would be delayed three to four weeks. Visitor access to Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake would be delayed two to three weeks. Combined, these delays will affect over 78,000 visitors, reduce park fee revenue by more than $150,000 and have significant economic impacts to concessioners and gateway communities.

* Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona will delay opening the East and West Rim Drives and reduce hours of operation at the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center. This will immediately affect over 250,000 visitors. Grand Canyon receives approximately five million visitors annually.

* Yosemite National Park in California will delay the opening of the Tioga and Glacier Point roads by as much as four weeks due to limitations on snow removal resulting from reduced staffing which will impact thousands of visitors.

* Glacier National Park in Montana will delay opening the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks, the only road which provides access across the park.

* Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming will close the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, and the Flagg Ranch Visitor Contact Station, for the summer season affecting more than 300,000 visitors. Additionally, the park’s cooperating association, the Grand Teton Association will lose $225,000 in sales revenue as a result of the closures.

* Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee will close five campgrounds and picnic areas affecting over 54,000 visitors. Additionally, the reduction in staff will result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses to activities such as accidents, rockslides, ice, and hazardous tree removal for more than 35,000 vehicles per day on several heavily travelled routes in the Cades Cove District as well as the thoroughfares between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and between Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.

* Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts will close the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown for the season due to inability to staff and maintain it. Normal operating hours are daily, early May through late October. This closure will affect over 260,000 visitors. Additionally, visitor access to large sections of the Great Beach will be reduced and restricted in order to protect the nesting shorebirds. The nesting birds require daily monitoring, which a reduced staff could not provide.

* Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee will see a reduction in seasonal employees that will cause closure of 25 comfort stations one day per week, affecting more than 200,000 visitors.

* Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state will close the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center due to inability to staff and maintain it, affecting upwards of 85,000 visitors.

* Denali National Park in Alaska will have seasonal staff shortages, resulting in delayed plowing operations of Denali's spring road, postponing the opening of the Eielson Visitor Center. This would impact over 3,500 visitors per day and would significantly affect revenue for local businesses.

At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which surveyed the parks for this information, spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo said "This foolhardy path tarnishes America’s ‘crown jewels’ and is a repudiation of the nation’s national parks often touted as ‘America’s best idea’. Millions of Americans depend on national parks for their vacations and livelihood. Those Americans are being told that national parks don’t count … that people who use national parks don’t count … and that people who live and work near national parks don’t count.”


I'm going to be in the US from March 6th for a month long vacation and tour of several national parks... Oh dear.

Don't worry Dstaniforth - these chicken little predictions are just that.

Talk about a downer. I find this all sad more than disturbing, I guess, because I expected something like this to happen (and I like to consider myself a glass-half-full kind of gal). It’s apparent that, with these cuts, the federal government’s priorities don’t take into the account the health, mental, emotional, and educational benefits that our national parks provide visitors from all over the world, the employment of our national parks’ stewards - the park rangers - as well as all other park staff, and the guardianship of the wealth of wildlife living within these parks. I wonder if the government is looking at our national parks more as failing corporations ready for bankruptcy rather than the custodians of what remains of our nation’s wild lands.

Traveler - I think all of this is just fear mongering. The CBO has recently stated that the overall budget will see cuts of only $44 billion this year if sequestration is allowed to pass (this is due to the fact that we're already 5 months into the federal fiscal year). This means that the federal gov't will only be cutting roughly 1.16% out of the overall budget. I think NPS Director Jon Jarvis has it wrong when he states that the NPS should assume a 5% cut in the 2013 budget.

Even if the cuts are as high as 5%, the 2013 budget would still be higher than the amount that the NPS spent in 2008, or any year before that. Certainly there are enough smart people in NPS management that can figure how to operate off those levels of funding, and not have to resort to draconian cuts in services.

Here's my full analysis on this topic:

Smoky, the NPS is only one of literally thousands of places where defensive use of scare tactics is occurring. Here in Utah, our friends who scream that spending must be cut are simultaneously screaming that cutting anything at Hill Air Force Base will be the end of Utah as we know it. The continual calls for cutting Federal spending is especially ironic in a state that gets back something like $1.35 for every tax dollar we send to the Feds.

It's difficult for most people to accept the fact that we really have only two options: Cut spending and services or pay the full cost of services we are not willing to forego. We Americans (and probably humans everywhere) possess basic survival instincts that seem to say: "It's okay to cause hardship for you as long as it doesn't cause any pain for me."

What grates on me is the idea that those who possess the power and money in our nation seem able to make sure the pain stays far from their own personal worlds.

And one must keep in mind that sequestration cuts are relative, not absolute. They will cut the rate of growth, not the absolute level of spending.

Smoky Mtn Hiker, not sure I follow all of your reasoning. The CBO document you link to on your own site states that nondefense funding affected by the sequestration will fall "between 5 percent and 6 percent" (pages 10-11).

And if the Park Service has to cut 5 percent from its current fiscal year spending on March 1, five months into its budget year, well, that leaves less time to spread out the pain, no?

And then there are fixed costs the NPS has to pay. Fixed costs in 2012 increased $26 million over 2011, according to Director Jarvis.

Since those fixed costs (I'm trying to get a percentage of the NPS budget that go to fixed costs) can't be cut, that means the bulk of the NPS reduction has to come from areas such as seasonal employees, maintenance and operations, and outside contractors.

And don't forget, while Congress and the president continue to add to the park system -- Fort Monroe, Cesar Chavez, Paterson Great Falls....-- they don't always add more money to the agency's budget for those operations, a fact that continues to squeeze the overall NPS budget.

For example, when the NPS worked to prepare its FY13 budget, it cut $2.5 million from its visitor services and education category, a cut that came with a loss of 20 jobs. A similar cut reduced the law enforcement ranks by another 20 jobs. Other sub-budgets also took hits. So when you ramp up the necessary cuts to more than $100 million, as would happen under sequestration, you can begin to envision how daily operations can be affected.

That said, perhaps this whole endeavor will lead to a thorough, independent, analysis of how the Park Service spends its budget.

Kurt - at the top of page 11 of the CBO, it reads:

"According to that estimate, discretionary outlays will drop by $35 billion and mandatory spending will be reduced by $9 billion this year as a direct result of those procedures; additional reductions in outlays attributable to the cuts in 2013 funding will occur in later years."

That comes out to a total of $44 billion for FY 2013 - out of a total budget of $3.8 trillion, which comes out to a 1.16% rate of reduction.

I know this doesn't jive with the 5% figures in that same document - I'm not really sure what to make of that - it doesn't make sense. But, based on my understanding, the way Washington works is that they view the first 5 months as already passed, and therefore the cuts only apply to the remainder of the year - as a percent of the remainder of the year.

Having said that, it sounds like the other $41 billion will be cut in the years to come. Still, this total of $85 billion is only a 2.24% decrease in the 2013 level of spending - less than half the 5% that's being kicked around.

Moreover, to ecbuck's point, DC uses a procedure called baseline budgeting, which means budgets across all agencies receive an automatic increase above the prior year "baseline" (the old use it or lose it game). When politicians say they are cutting budgets, 99% of the time they mean they're really cutting the rate of growth.

To normal people like most us in the real world, a cut means that this year's spending is less than last year. Not so in DC.

As I pointed out in my blog, for whatever reason the growth in spending for the NPS has been slower as compared to the overall budget. So, in effect, a 1.16% or even a 2.24% decrease in the NPS budget would take the NPS back to 2009 spending levels. In other words, the NPS will feel more of the "pain" of cuts - relative to most of the other agencies in the federal government.

As far as fixed costs are concerned, I assume you're referring to what the NPS calls mandatory spending. This portion of the budget only makes up 13.6% of the total budget. Which really wouldn't make a meaningful difference in the overall rate cut percentage - if indeed there is a disctinction between the two when it's time to make the cuts.

I don't about the NPS specifically, but there is massive waste and corruption that runs rampant throughout the federal government. Until they get their act together, they have no right to ask for anymore tax dollars from any of us.

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