National park advocates warn of revenue shortfalls with government shutdown

WiG reports

National parks advocates are urging Congress to pass a spending agreement to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1 and warning that a shutdown would significantly harm national parks and cost millions in lost revenue for local communities.

In a letter to members of the House and Senate, the National Parks Conservation Association said the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 forced the closure of all national park sites and that another shutdown would result in more than 770,000 visitors being turned away each day the parks are closed. That could mean as much as $42 million in visitor spending being lost every day at a time when the Park System is experiencing record-breaking attendance in advance of its 2016 centennial.

“A government shutdown only brings into focus the families, communities, businesses and dedicated park rangers who struggle while our national treasures are shuttered,” according to the letter from NPCA president Clark Bunting, noting that the 2013 government shutdown turned away almost eight million visitors, costing local communities nearly a half billion dollars in lost revenue.

“Today the shutdown would once again be a sad chapter in the struggle to adequately fund our nation’s needs, including America’s national parks.” 

The prospect of another government shutdown comes at a difficult time for the National Park Service, which has had its operating budget cut by more than 7 percent over the past five years, in today’s dollars. These cuts have resulted in fewer rangers to protect parks and greet the public while leaving roads, trails, visitor centers and other infrastructure elements crumbling.

With a maintenance backlog that has grown to $11.5 billion due to a significant decline in construction funding and insufficient investments in the transportation funding bill, Bunting said the only way to get parks back on track is to restore park funding to pre-sequester levels and provide the funding parks need to prepare for the centennial year and beyond.

“Rather than threatening another damaging shutdown, Congress should be preparing for the influx of visitors expected during the national parks’ 2016 centennial year by pursuing a deal that can allow for needed restoration of funding for national parks,” Bunting wrote. “We urge swift passage of a bipartisan continuing resolution clean of environmentally damaging policy riders, followed by a committed bipartisan effort to enact a budget deal that replaces the sequester and allows for the needed restoration of funding for the National Park Service in Fiscal Year 2016.”