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NPCA "Infographic" Lays Out Financial Bind Of The National Park Service


A handy new graphic from the National Parks Conservation Association shows just how much help the National Park Service needs to manage the park system.

National Parks Need Help - NPCA Infographic


The 7 day entry fee for our National Parks is still one of the best bargains in travel. I have advocated for many years that this fee should be raised, yet still being a bargain for a carload for a week.

It's hard for me to believe the NPS 'poor-boy' budget propaganda when they are as secretive as the KGB .

I'm guessing close to half the NPS annual appropriation never makes it past the DC & Regional Offices or the Denver Service Center to the park level. It's hard to know, though, since Park Service management seems to feel that how they spend money is none of the public's business.

Bill, its a bargain if you are going for seven days. I've been to many a national park and never spent 7 days. More typically its a single day or maybe two. Perhaps a per day fee would be more appropriate.

Tahoma, I am with you on the transparency. lets see the operating statements of the parks.

Traveler readers might want to know that the person who wrote the article linked in Tahoma's post had a long-running battle with the former superintendent of Mesa Verde NP. Whatever his opinion of that superintendent was, he is using a pretty broad brush to categorize all superintendents and other regional and national leaders as autocrats who operate without supervision and guidance. I know from my career in the NPS that I received plenty of both.

2009 was a long time ago. I hope he has found subsequent seasonal assignments more rewarding.


Traveler readers might also want to know that I had an experience here at Mount Rainier much like Mr Schundler describes. Repeated calls, e-mails, and a letter requesting a breakdown of the park's budget by department and a simple organization chart (names redacted OK) were ignored. Six months after contacting FOIA in DC, I received a photocopied page from a table with a one-line total figure, which I already knew from news articles. The majority of my request was ignored.

I know several people who have had even worse experiences asking questions about concessioner favoritism and the climbing fee program here. If stalling doesn't work, they can redact most of the information or charge you for the search time. If you don't believe the NPS tends to be the opposite of honest and transparent, try requesting similar information from your local park or Regional Office.

Back on topic, I might be more convinced if the NPCA included a chart showing the bureaucratic overhead of the NPS. Here's a bit more heresy:

Rick, you were a highly respected manager. Perhaps you can tell us approximately what percentage of the NPS appropriations went to DC & Regional Offices, Harpers, DSC, etc., compared to 'the field'?

tahoma, I do not know the budget breakdowns at the Regional and Washington levels, but do support Rick Smith's position that generally speaking there is a pretty high standard for Park Superintendents, at least in my own experience. That is not to say that in any large organization, bad apples do not exist. One needs to only read "The Soul Of Yosemite", Barbara Moritsch; "The Case of the Indian Trader". Paul Berkowitz; "Worth Fighting For", Robert Danno, to know that we can and must do better. But, like most issues, to broad a brush is not creditable, at least in my view.

Tahoma--Like Mackie, I don't know that information right off hand. I suspect that if one were to go to the "Green Book", add the costs of Regional Offices, the Washington HQ, Harper's Ferry, and the Denver Service Center and divide that number by the operation of the National Park budget, you would know the percentage. I am not interested enough to do it.

I am sorry that you were not satisfied with Rainier's response to your questions. Since I am not familiar with the questions you asked other than what you have said you were looking for, it seems to me that you could have gotten that kind of information from your division chief. I can't imagine that a FOIA request would be necessary.

I always shared my budget information with my employees, the local chambers of commerce, and the political leadership in nearby towns. I felt it was a way to build confidence in those with whom I was working or interacting. I will repeat what I have said on this forum once before: the three main goals of any park are to 1.) preserve and protect resources; 2) provide high quality visitor services; and 3.) maintain productive relationships with the various groups with which the park deals, including its employees. You can't do that without honesty and transparency.


Should a greater percentage of the NPS budget make it to the "worker bee" level in parks? I'd agree that would be desirable. That said, some of the reasons for central and regional office staffs are externally driven, including the need for subject-matter specialists to deal with the same regulatory requirements that private industry complains about, and to handle congressionally-mandated programs that are not central to the original NPS mission.

There's another factor in NPS budget dollars being "siphoned off" at higher levels, and it's based on the way Congress requires the agency to operate.

In general, the NPS is not allowed to carry over unspent money from one fiscal year to the next in order to maintain contingency reserves for emergencies. Based on averages from previous years, prudent park managers set aside some dollars each year for overtime and other costs for emergencies, but where does the money come from when a park, especially a small or medium-sized one, experiences a major search and rescue incident, fire, or flood, or has to bring in extra staff to help with a major special event, or is hit with a lawsuit for a visitor injury or death?

For those situations, a superintendent can never count on, and certainly can't wait for, special funding from Congress. The answer has been for the Washington and Regional offices to hold back a percentage of each year's budget for such contingencies, and then parcel out those dollars to parks as needed.

At the end of the budget year, if there's any of that "contingency" money left, it can't be carried over to the next year, so it has to be spent by the end of September. If it's not, some congressional bean counter will be quick to claim that the NPS had more money than it needed, and suggest a budget cut for the following year.

And that's one reason for the "end of year government spending sprees" pundits love to criticize. My own observation at the park level wasn't of wasteful year-end spending; this was often the only opportunity to replace worn-out equipment.

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