Sequester Fallout Still Hurting National Parks
The budget tug-of-war in Washington is damaging the National Park System, according to an organization that works to protect and enhance the parks.
The National Parks Conservation Association estimates the 16-day government shutdown in October already cost $30 million a day system-wide. That's about a half-billion dollars total, money that the NPCA's Southeast regional director, Don Barger, said is "not coming back."
"In the state of Kentucky alone, based on the normal October averages for visitation, there were over 5,000 visitors a day that had to be turned away from national parks due to the shutdown," he said.
That was an economic blow to Mammoth Cave National Park, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, as well as to their neighboring communities.
The deadline for the bipartisan congressional committee working to reach a budget agreement that includes National Park Service funding is December 13.
Greg Davis, who oversees park concessions at Mammoth Cave, characterized the shutdown as "devastating," hitting at the peak of that park's fall season. He said running the park's hotel, cottages, camp store, restaurants, gift shops and bus transportation was already a "marginal" operation at best.
"In sales, that hit us for about $250,000, you know, $250,000 on top of the sequester that already was going to cost us in excess of $300,000," he said. "So, when you accumulate everything up, it just affects you."
Don Barger said that on top of the shutdown, national parks are also dealing with a larger, long-term, erosion of funding. Over the last three years, the Park Service budgets have decreased by 13 percent.
"A lot of times, I think we take for granted that these national parks are going to be there," he said. "But they require a lot of care, maintenance and people there on staff to welcome, educate, interpret, and protect visitors."
Barger said it's essential that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky work with the budget conference committee to reach a deal, or the government risks shutting down again in mid-January.