Why This Election Matters for National Parks
Note: This is the first of several stories on the upcoming presidential election. You can sign NPCA’s petition urging the candidates to pledge their support for national parks.
I will be watching tonight’s presidential debate closely, and I hope park lovers around the country will be watching with me.
The decision American voters make this November will have a very real impact on the future of our national parks. When the votes are finally tallied, we will have chosen the person who will lead the Park Service into its centennial in 2016—a symbolic time when the nation’s attention will be focused on our parks. Do we want our government to continue to cut federal support for the Park Service budget? Or do we want a government that recognizes the value of protecting and improving our nation’s most beautiful and historically important places—and puts our money where our values are?
I know many Americans are disgusted by the state of partisan politics and feel their votes make no difference. I can’t say I never feel that way myself. But this is a particularly bad time to sit on the sidelines. Our ballots this fall will have real consequences for many of the places we love.
Here are a few real-life examples of what could happen if funding for our national parks continues to decline in 2013 and beyond:
- Fewer seasonal rangers at Acadia National Park in Maine, leading to a sharp decline in visitor services in the busy summer season.
- Fewer staff to protect archaeological resources at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, including its famous cliff dwellings.
- Shorter hours and possible closings at visitor centers serving the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, the most visited part of the park system.
- Delays in critical restoration projects that affect the health of the Everglades in Florida.
- Cuts to seasonal employees and shorter hours at visitor centers in Olympic in Washington State, as well as delays to needed maintenance work, such as trail repair and replacement of aging pit toilets.
- No home for the 149,000 artifacts in storage at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. These historic documents and sacred objects could remain out of public view due to inadequate facilities.*
Underfunding is just one of many important issues facing national parks—but the steep, system-wide cuts currently being debated in Congress would have a chilling effect on parks and local communities throughout the country. Does this really reflect what we find important as a nation?
One thing we know for sure is that Americans on both sides of the political aisle love the national parks. An overwhelming 95% said in our recent survey that it is appropriate for the federal government to support national parks.
We also know that the entire Park Service budget costs just one-fourteenth of one percent of the federal budget, and that this small investment boosts local economies around the country, providing good jobs and supporting private-sector businesses in small towns and urban centers alike. Every dollar invested in park operations yields about $10 for local communities.
Times are tight, but cutting the Park Service budget would have virtually no impact on America’s debt. Even minor funding cuts to the parks, however, can have serious consequences that degrade our favorite places, as well as our ability to enjoy them.
Last Thanksgiving, my husband and I spent the long weekend visiting Joshua Tree National Park for the first time, and for us, it was an ideal place to feel gratitude. We hiked Ryan Mountain on a clear, beautiful day and got a perfect view of the valleys below with their sculpted granite, clusters of cholla, and feathery nolinas. We spent days marveling at those famous Joshua trees, with their tufted, twisted arms, and we were overwhelmed by the sight of them dotting the vast, sparse landscape, seeming to spread endlessly into the solitude of the Mojave. But of course, this wilderness is not endless. Undisturbed natural places grow scarcer every year, more precious and precarious. It can take effort to seek them out. Sometimes I wonder how our land and our legislative priorities would be different if trees and mountains and endangered animals could vote. But they can’t… it’s just people like us doing our best to speak up for them.
If you’re one of those people who value the national parks, please, tell the candidates. Remind them that not only do our national parks protect America’s heritage, but they are vital to the economic health of our country. Sign NPCA’s petition. Register to vote, if you haven’t already. And if you can, tune in for the debates tonight. It really does matter.
More stories in this series
- Putting National Parks into the Debate: Questions for Obama and Romney (October 9, 2012)
- Preserving National Parks: It’s Not Just Popular, It’s Patriotic (October 22, 2012)