US national parks under threat
Yosemite, California, famous for its massive granite cliffs and giant sequoia trees, could be affected on 1 March by US government budget cuts. (Danita Delimont/Getty)
This spring, politics may be coming to a park near you.
That’s because sweeping US government budget cuts, known as sequestration, could slash $130 million from the US National Park Service’s $2.6 billion budget, affecting staffing, visitor hours and programmes at parks across the United States, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone.
The cuts are part of an $85 billion package of spending reductions that will automatically go into effect on 1 March if Congress cannot agree on voluntary spending cuts to help reduce the country’s more than $16 trillion national debt. The cuts could also affect air travel, education, defence and medical care.
Of course, it is possible for Congress to engage in 11th hour negotiations, as they did during the fiscal cliff standoff late last year, but in this case it seems unlikely that lawmakers will be able to draft a budget deal to avoid the sequester in time.
"We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operations, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas," National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis, wrote in a memo to park directors in January.
About 280 million people visit US national parks each year. Visitor spending at parks supports some 247,000 jobs and brings an estimated $31 billion to local economies, according to USA Today. So where will travellers notice the cuts?
Yellowstone, Wyoming, considered the first national park in the world and known for its wildlife and geothermal features, could face a $1.7 million cut. This would force a hiring freeze and the furloughing of permanent staff, as well as delay spring openings of the park to save money on costly snow-ploughing operations.
In Yosemite, California, a $1.4 million reduction would result in maintenance cuts at this popular park, famous for its massive granite cliffs, waterfalls and giant sequoia trees, as well as delay the opening of the Tioga and Glacier Point roads by up to four weeks, meaning limited access to parts of the park.
The Unesco World Heritage site of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, known for its dramatic steep-sided canyon carved some 17 million years ago by the Colorado River, is facing possible cuts of $1 million. This would delay the opening of the popular East and West Rim drives this year as well as reducing the hours of operation at the main visitor centre where you can browse through the park’s large bookstore, watch a film about the making of the Grand Canyon and view 3D relief maps.
The potential $784,000 in cuts at Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile route offering scenic views of southern Appalachia in Virginia and North Carolina, could close 21 educational programmes and close half of the park’s 15 visitor stations, leaving 80 miles between each station.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Eastern Tennessee, a Unesco World Heritage Site known for its old growth forest, could be facing a reduction of $944,000, which would close five campgrounds and picnic areas out of 10 campgrounds and 11 picnic areas.
Grand Teton, Wyoming, with its more than 200 miles of trails, might lose $750,000, which would force the closure of the Jenny Lake Visitor Center where hikers can meet rangers, see exhibits on park geology and watch an animated film about the formation of Teton Range.