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Can National Parks Hold Their Own in Budget Debate?

PHOTO: The Golden West Visitor Center in Stehekin, Wash., will be closed until mid-March, 2014, as a money-saving move for the National Park Service. Photo credit: NPS on flickr.
PHOTO: The Golden West Visitor Center in Stehekin, Wash., will be closed until mid-March, 2014, as a money-saving move for the National Park Service. Photo credit: NPS on flickr.
November 21, 2013

SEATTLE - North Cascades National Park has closed a visitor center early and curtailed its winter operations more than usual. It's just one example of what many national park sites are doing to cope with smaller budgets and uncertainty about the future. Congress is aiming for a new budget deal by mid-December, and National Park Service (NPS) funding is part of that.

October's government shutdown turned an unexpected spotlight on the importance of the park system to visitors and local businesses. Rob Smith, Northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), said in Washington, towns near the parks lost an estimated $9 million.

"I think we found - reaffirmed - that even though people argue about a lot of things in America, the national parks are not one of them," Smith said. "Nine out of 10 Americans really support continued park funding - in fact, think we probably aren't doing enough for national parks."

The NPCA wants to see a budget increase for the park system - not only restoring the money cut in the sequester, but adding funding 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.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray chairs the Senate Budget Committee, and Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are members of 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 four senators in key leadership positions to do something about trying to reverse course, come back and reinvest in the parks we love and expect to be there for another 100 years," Smith added.

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

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA