After more than a decade of scrimping and deferring maintenance and construction projects — and absorbing a 6 percent budget cut in the past two years — the signs of strain are beginning to surface at national parks across the country, the Washington Post reported
- The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which curves along the spine of the easternmost range of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina, has a $385 million backlog of projects, mainly in road maintenance, and has been unable to fill 75 vacant positions since 2003.
- For the past three years, New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument has lacked the money to hire a specialist to protect its archaeological ruins and resources.
Jonathan B. Jarvis, the National Park Service director, said in an interview that his employees have been “entrepreneurial” in devising ways to cope with rising costs on a fixed budget.
“But we’re kind of running out of ideas at some point here,” Jarvis said. For years, the Park Service has supported day-to-day operations by taking money from its maintenance and land acquisition budget, he said. “The challenge is, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Annual attendance at national parks has remained about the same, though visits through July this year total 201 million, up 1.5 percent from last year. Park managers say they are alarmed at the prospect of both next year’s budget and a possible 8 percent across-the-board cut if negotiators fail to reach a budget deal by January. The president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal — which was largely adopted by the House Appropriations Committee — would cut 218 full-time jobs, or 763 seasonal employees.
Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said he has lost a third of his permanent maintenance crew in the past 11 years. Staff members have gotten “a few visitor complaints” about conditions in the park, ranging from its restrooms to its overlooks.
“Of course we know these things,” he said. “It’s a challenge. We do the best we can and make sure the impacts are as minimal as possible.”
Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said policymakers face a critical decision as the park system approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016. A major influx of funds could mobilize public support for the system, he said. Without it, he said, conditions at the parks will continue deteriorating and visits could drop sharply.
“It’s clear that inadequate federal funding is the number one threat to the future of the national parks and the national park idea,” Kiernan said. “We’re at a crossroads of historic importance here.”
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