3:31 p.m. February 20, 2013
Great Smoky Mountains National Park to be affected by sequestration
By Jeaneane Payne
Great Smoky Mountains National Park will suffer from the impact of sequestration as the meat cleaver comes down on America's national parks.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee will close five campgrounds and picnic areas affecting over 54,000 visitors. Additionally, the reduction in staff will result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses to activities such as accidents, rockslides, ice, and hazardous tree removal for more than 35,000 vehicles per day on several heavily travelled routes in the Cades Cove area as well as the thoroughfares between Gatlinburg, TN and Pigeon Forge, TN and between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC.
Sequestration will total $1.2 trillion and will occur in a series of cuts over a 10 year period. Fifty percent of the cuts include domestic discretionary spending which includes a $100 million cut for the National Parks Service. Sequestration is one of several efforts to control the growth of the U.S. national debt which now stands at more than $16 trillion. It will go into effect on March 1, 2013.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only America's most visited national park, it also generates more visitor spending than any of the 397 national parks.
A recently-released National Park Service (NPS) study shows that the Park's 9 million visitors in 2010 spent over $818 million in the gateway towns surrounding the Park. In addition, 11,367 local jobs (full and part-time) were supported by Park visitor spending.
In the top five NPS parks generating the most revenue for surrounding towns were Great Smoky Mountains National Park with $818 million, Grand Canyon at $415 million, Yosemite with $354 million, Yellowstone at $334 million, and Blue Ridge Parkway with $299 million.
In addition to cutbacks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sequestration will cut visitor access to the rim of the Grand Canyon, significantly delay the spring opening of key portions of Yellowstone and Yosemite, limit access to the beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore, and impair the experiences in many other ways for millions of visitors at Americas national parks. In addition, local, regional and state economies that depend on national parks will take huge hits as visitors are either turned away or skip visits due to the impact of the mindless sequestration budget cuts.
Sequestration will result in a much reduced workforce, shutdowns of certain national park areas altogether or for extended period of times, closure of visitor centers and services, restrictions on the availability of campgrounds, visitor centers, comfort stations, and trail and other backcountry access. Additionally, the ability to respond to emergencies including wildland fires will be sharply reduced.
Joan Anzelmo, former Superintendent of Colorado National Monument, said: "Congress might just as well put a big Keep Out! sign at the entrance to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Cape Cod Seashore, and every other iconic national park in the U.S. This foolhardy path tarnishes America's crown jewels and is a repudiation of the nation's national parks often touted as America's best idea. Millions of Americans depend on national parks for their vacations and livelihood. Those Americans are being told that national parks don't count, that people who use national parks don't count, and that people who live and work near national parks don't count."
Specific cuts at other major parks include:
• Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho will delay spring road opening operations inside the park and to the west, south, east, and northeast entrances. Savings would come from a combination of reduced or delayed seasonal hiring, extended unpaid furloughs for employees, and reduced operating expenses including fuel, equipment and maintenance. Access from the west (from US 20 & 191 West Yellowstone, MT), from the south (US 287/89, Jackson, WY thru Grand Teton National Park) and the east (US 20, Cody, WY) would be delayed 2-3 weeks. Access from the northeast via the Chief Joseph Highway (near Cody, WY) and Beartooth Highway (near Red Lodge, MT) would be delayed 3-4 weeks. Visitor access to Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake would be delayed 2-3 weeks. Combined, these delays will affect over 78,000 visitors, reduce park fee revenue by more than $150,000 and have significant economic impacts to concessioners and gateway communities.
• Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona will delay opening the East and West Rim Drives and reduce hours of operation at the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center. This will immediately affect over 250,000 visitors. Grand Canyon receives approximately five million visitors annually.
• Yosemite National Park in California, will delay the opening of the Tioga and Glacier Point roads by as much as four weeks due to limitations on snow removal resulting from reduced staffing which will impact thousands of visitors. In 2011, Yosemite National Park had a near record 4,098,648 visitors.
• Glacier National Park in Montana will delay opening the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks, the only road which provides access to the entire park. In previous instances, closures of Going-to-the-Sun Road have resulted in financial distress for surrounding communities and concessions well into millions in lost revenues.
• Grand Teton National Park in Woming will close the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, and the Flagg Ranch Visitor Contact Station, for the summer season affecting over 300,000 visitors. Additionally, the parks cooperating association, the Grand Teton Association will lose $225,000 in sales revenue as a result of the closures.
• Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts will close the Province Lands Visitor Center for the season due to inability to staff and maintain it. Normal operating hours are daily, early May through late October. This closure will affect over 260,000 visitors. Additionally, visitor access to large sections of the Great Beach will be reduced and restricted in order to protect the nesting shorebirds. The nesting birds require daily monitoring, which a reduced staff could not provide.
• Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee a reduction in seasonal employees will cause closure of 25 comfort stations one day per week, affecting more than 200,000 visitors.
• Mount Rainier National Park in Washington will close the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center due to inability to staff and maintain it, affecting upwards of 85,000 visitors.
• Denali National Park in Alaska will have seasonal staff shortages resulting in delayed plowing operations of Denali's spring road, postponing the opening of the Eielson Visitor Center. This would impact over 3,500 visitors per day and would significantly affect revenue for local businesses.
Nationwide, national parks support local economies in a significant way, generating $31 billion in private sector spending and 258,000 private sector jobs each year. Many parks are located in rural areas that are very dependent on these expenditures to maintain a healthy economy.
Published February 20, 2013
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