National Park units would be hardest hit by sequestration
Our National Park Service units in Tennessee are facing a threat more serious than many of the federal government units with the March 1 budget sequestration.
If Congress cannot agree on a budget by March 1, by previous agreement a major across-the-board reduction in the federal budget will occur.
This has been called sequestration. Few departments of the U.S. government will in reality be as hard hit as the National Park Service units.
Of course, our immediate concern is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most-visited national park which occupies more than one-fifth of the area of Blount County.
It has 9 million visitors annually of which nearly a million come to Cades Cove in the Blount area of the Park. That Cove visit total in itself exceeds that of all but nine national parks annually.
In addition to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which would have almost $1 million reduction in appropriations, adjacent park units would also be affected:
Big South Fork, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Andrew Johnson Historic Site, Appalachian Trail, and Chickamauga/Chattanooga National Military Park for a total of $2.5 million in Tennessee.
A recent memo to staff from National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis gives a sense of what these cuts might mean:
“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.”
Tourism spending in Blount County exceeds $300 million annually. Nationally, each $1 spent on National Park Service budgets locally brings in $10 to the local economy.
Because of geographic locations, it is much higher than that locally. National Parks are economic generators!
The rest of the story is that National Park budgets have been eroding for years. Adjusted for inflation, its budgets have decreased 15 percent in the last decade and are already looking at an austere decade ahead due to discretionary caps under the Budget Control Act.
If this additional cut is made, it will be well into the fiscal year, making it even more difficult to make ends meet and serve public demands, especially as the Park Service approaches an expected increase in visitor use for its 100-year birthday in 2016.
Gov. Bill Haslam has rightfully emphasized the importance of Tennessee’s tourism industry in his budget and his words. The entire National Park System operates on 1/14th of 1 percent of the federal budget. This is the wrong time for our economy to be limiting the ability of parks to operate.
Our national parks are clearly an example of the fact that across-the-board cuts will hurt rather than help the economy. They are not the cause of our deficit problem and the public understands that. Last year, nine out of 10 people surveyed — Republicans and Democrats alike — believe park budgets should be maintained or increased.
We hope everyone in Washington, D.C., will come to the realization that budgeting by sequestration is the very most inefficient way to determine how our tax money is allocated.