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Will Congress Remember National Parks in Budget Debate?

PHOTO: What a view  if you can get there. Crater Lake National Park access depends in part on keeping the roads open, and that depends on a sufficient budget. Photo credit: National Park Service.
PHOTO: What a view if you can get there. Crater Lake National Park access depends in part on keeping the roads open, and that depends on a sufficient budget. Photo credit: National Park Service.
November 21, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - Communities near Oregon's national park and monument sites lost an estimated total of $1.8 million during October's government shutdown. And the next budget challenge is yet to come.

Congress is aiming for a new federal budget deal by mid-December, and National Park Service (NPS) funding is part of that. It affects jobs and tourism in the vicinity of Crater Lake National Park and the other scenic spots managed by the NPS in Oregon.

Rob Smith, Northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), said money is at stake not only for improvements, but for basic services.

"At a place like Crater Lake, we're talking about money to plow the snow," said Smith. "It's a high-elevation park; it has a very limited season and heavy snowfall. So, in order to open it in the spring and keep it open in the fall and even through the winter, you need to have enough money to plow the snow, so people can visit their park."

The NPCA wants to see money restored to the NPS budget from the sequester, and additional dollars to tackle a backlog of road repairs and maintenance projects. Smith said that would put more people to work, and get the National Park System ready for its 100th anniversary in 2016.

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are members of the Senate Budget Committee, and Washington Sen. Patty Murray chairs that committee. So, all are on the conference committee now trying to reconcile $90 billion of House and Senate budget differences.

Smith said people are making it clear they don't want their national parks lost in the debate.

"The Northwest has three of their senators in key leadership positions to do something about trying to reverse course and come back and reinvest in the parks that we love and expect to be there for another 100 years," he said.

Sen. Murray has already said she would like to do away with the sequester cuts. According to the NPCA, in the past three years alone, the National Park Service has seen its budget trimmed by 13 percent.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR