Parks and Sequestration: America’s “Worst Idea”

With the passing of Memorial Day Weekend, summer has unofficially begun. Schools will soon let out for summer break, and families will go on vacations, with many of them heading for national parks. But this summer is going to be a tough one for national parks, their visitors and the towns that depend on summer tourism – thanks to the federal budget sequester.

The details are laid out in a new report released by Rep. Edward Markey, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources. The report, “America’s Best Idea Meets America’s Worst Idea,” outlines the strains that the sequester has put on parks, and while officials have tried to mitigate the damage as much as possible, there will be negative outcomes due to the sequester that will directly affect vacationers and, crucially, communities near the parks. The summer months are vital for tourist-oriented towns, where businesses earn much of their livelihood for the year during the summer months.

While Yellowstone National Park got the early sequester headlines, threatening to not open on time before private citizens raised nearly $200,000 to clear snow from the park’s roads.all national parks are now endangered by the hurtful policy, and thus so are the towns they support.

Among the parks that will be impacted is one that is partly in my home state of North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles Tennessee and North Carolina and attracts the largest number of visitors of any national park.

According to the report, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will have to:

  • Cut nearly $1 million from its yearly budget

  • Leave 10 permanent positions unfilled

  • Leave several seasonal positions unfilled

  • Closing or delaying the opening of several park areas including campgrounds

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is vital to its surrounding communities, attracting 9.7 million yearly visitors that contributed $819 million which supported 11,000 jobs, and any reduction in visitors will be felt by those that depend on the park. Without the park, there is little to protect these small, isolated mountain communities from hard times. Tourism is the main source of income for the surrounding towns, and prior to a casino opening up in Cherokee, many residents would go on government assistance during the winter months.

The sequester cuts will delay repairs to national parks around the country, which are already facing a $12 billion backlog in repairs. The sequester limits the ability for minor repairs to be made now, waiting for them to become major repairs before they are fixed.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has delayed repairs of roads washed out by flooding due to the cuts and many other parks have had to scrounge for money in their budget, few have had the ability such as Yellowstone to have private donors pay for cleanup and repairs.

The sequester cuts are damaging and counterproductive to America’s commitment to her greatest natural treasures. By cutting now, we add complexity to the problems parks need to fix and hurt the communities that depend on the parks immediately. It is inconceivable that in a time when millions are hurting, America is not addressing its problems, but willing to cut itself deeper. The sequester cuts have real effects across the country, and though our parks did not cause the problem, they and their visitors feel the effects. This shows yet another way that the sequester is counterproductive. At a time when we need every source of economic boost that we can get, we should be putting more into our national parks, not less.

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