Monday, December 31, 2012

A Perilous Time For Our National Parks

The sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park. The famous face of Yosemite's Half Dome. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.

Beauties all.

But if we go over the so-called "Fiscal Cliff" this week, these wonderful cliffs may become less accessible to the public, as mandatory cuts to the National Parks System go into effect, pulling $200 million from a budget that is already woefully underfunded.

Both the National Parks Conservation Organization and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees have been sending out dire warnings about what additional cuts to the NPS budget could do. The effects range from a loss of interpretive programs to stoppage of necessary maintenance work to out-and-out park closings.

The Chicago Sun Times quoted Cragi Obey,  senior vice president of the NPCA, as saying.  “Our national parks will face a tough decade ahead. They cannot afford additional cuts after two consecutive years of cuts and a budget in today’s dollars that is 15 percent less than it was a decade ago.”

According to the paper, some 9000 seasonal jobs could be lost and 200 park sites closed. 

So what does this mean for the traveler planning park visits in January? It doesn't look like they'll be affected, as most parks operate with limited staff at this time of year anyway.

But if you're thinking of heading to one of the nation's great national parks in spring or summer, when seasonal workers are key, my advice would be to hold off on your plans until this mess is sorted out. With staff gone, you may not be able to camp where you'd like, or have access to the wonderful interpretive programs that so add to a park visit. More importantly, there may not be enough rangers in the coming months to ensure the safety of those who vacation in the parks, a true tragedy.

To read more about the fall-out the fiscal cliff may have, as well as the important role these parks have in our nation's economy, click here.

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