National park advocates pressing Congress to prevent deep budget cuts

Advocates for the vast numbers of visitors to America’s national parks are pressuring Congress to prevent deep automatic spending cuts that would result in reduced hours and services across the country, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Yellowstone.

Few corners of the federal government directly touch the public as do the 398 parks, monuments and historic sites, which draw 280 million visits a year. The system would feel the effects immediately of a $110 million slash should budget cuts take effect March 1 — from a three-week delay of Yellowstone’s spring opening to save money on snow plowing, to shuttered campgrounds and visitor centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

And 20 days before the cherry blossoms begin blooming on the National Mall, $1.6 million would be slashed from the park’s $32 million budget, cutting into law enforcement, tree maintenance, rangers and other services park employees provide for one of Washington’s biggest tourist attractions.

“We’re going to have 1 million people in D.C. [for the cherry blossoms], whether sequestration happens or not,” said Diana Mayhew, executive director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the extravaganza scheduled for March 20 to April 14.

The White House began sounding alarms last week about the threat to military readiness, border security and humanitarian aid of $85 billion in reductions known as a sequester. Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis is reviewing detailed contingency plans he ordered every superintendent to submit last week. With talks on Capitol Hill to resolve an impasse over how to reduce the deficit, federal agencies are kicking their austerity planning into high gear.

The prospect of dirtier restrooms, sporadic grass mowing and litter pickup, and a shortage of rangers to answer questions and patrol has set off a furious campaign by a coalition of park advocates, tourism officials and businesses from to Maine to Wyoming.

Their plea: The reductions would not just set back conservation efforts but undermine local economies around the parks that rely on tourism.

“The economic foundation the national parks provide for our businesses and communities is jeopardized by political maneuvering,” says a letter the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association plans to send to every member of Congress this week, signed by dozens of businesses.

The advocates are finding that many of the most popular parks are in districts represented by conservative lawmakers, who say that while they love the parks, spending must be kept in line.

“The reality is that we have an escalating debt crisis,” freshman Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said.

‘They’re a crown jewel’

The sequester would have repercussions across government including forcing delays to medical research and defense jobs, and scaling back air-traffic controllers.

But the cuts to the parks, whose mission of preservation and recreation has changed little since President Ulysses S. Grant made Yellowstone the first national park in 1872, have made the deficit battle very real for millions of Americans.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com


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