Looming sequestration would impact visitor services at Voyageurs National Park

On the national levelNational Park Service Director Jon Jarvis has instructed all park superintendents to prepare for a five percent across-the-board budget cut in anticipation of sequestration, should Congress be unable to reach a deficit-reduction agreement by March 1st. Parks would be asked to cut five percent of their entire fiscal year over a period of six months.  Following six percent in cuts over the last two years and 15 percent over the past decade, sequestration would be a hard blow to an already struggling Park Service.

According to a National Park Service memo obtained by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, sequestration will have a drastic impact on the parks, visitors and gateway businesses.  Jarvis explains, "We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons, and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources, and government assets." What it means for Voyageurs Voyageurs National Park officials have drafted a plan for a sequestration scenario, but are still weighing options to have the least effect on the public.  Visitors would definitely see a reduction in park services.  Seasonal hires would be cut drastically. Other areas with cuts would include campsite cleaning, trail maintenance, school and interpretation programs, air and water quality studies, and ranger support for search and rescue.  Visitor center hours would be reduced with the possibility of one center closing.

Why would a 5 percent cut lead to such a severe reduction in visitor services?  The majority (85-90 percent) of a national park’s budget consists of fixed costs so the 5 percent would have to come out of discretionary funds for summer staff and visitor services.

Anything that harms the national parks and their visitor services will inevitably have impacts on surrounding businesses.  Our national parks represent just 1/14 of 1 percent of the federal budget, yet they welcome 280 million visitors each year whose spending supports 247,000 jobs and has a $31 billion economic impact in local economies.  A new NPS report shows that the 572,795 visitors to Minnesota national parks in 2011 spent $39 million in communities surrounding those parks.

Voyageurs Superintendent Michael Ward commented, "We are still hopeful Congress will find a way to avoid long-term sequestration and pass a budget that solves multiple concerns. As proposed, these senseless cuts do not allow experienced managers to reduce costs in ways that have a chance of still serving the public appropriately.”

What you can do Voyageurs National Park and other Minnesota NPS sites not only preserve natural, scientific and historic treasures, but also provide a hub for tourism and recreation that support local businesses.  We cannot let sequestration devastate our parks.

Contact your elected officials today! Tell Congress to protect funding for our national parks.