The good news is, the grand, iconic national parks that we all know and love (and hope to visit) – Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Yosemite – are not in danger of closing in the wake of the federal government’s across-the-board budgets cuts (known as “the sequester”).
But, as with all federal programs, national parks are buckling down in preparation for an automatic five percent budget reduction resulting from the sequester. For larger parks, that can mean a decrease in government funding of more than $1 million, and when planning a trip to these parks it is helpful to understand the impact of these budget reductions.
“That is a very real cut,” says Yellowstone Public Affairs Director Al Nash. “This is not a decrease in the increase.”
Most parks plan to hire fewer seasonal employees, leave vacant salaried positions empty, and refrain from filling positions that open up in the near future. Yellowstone, which will lose roughly $1.8 million, will also delay the spring opening by one to two weeks, an important factor to keep in mind when making travel arrangements.
“We are looking at our operations to determine how these changes might impact specific aspects,” he says. “We’re not at a point of talking about programs. It’s too early to know that.”
Other park officials however are already planning to reduce park programs and visitor center hours. Kyle Patterson, public affairs director for Rocky Mountain National Park, explains that RMNP will have to tighten its purse strings by $623,200.
“Now that the sequester is actually in effect, we’re in the process of identifying specific impacts for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Patterson says. “This is still very fluid as we figure it out.”
She notes that while RMNP does not yet know exactly what cutbacks it will need to make, it is planning to reduce seasonal staff, leading to longer lines at the park entrance, decreased visitor center hours, and dirtier bathrooms. The park will also reduce seasonal ranger staff, which means there will be fewer emergency responders to accidents in the backcountry.
“They’re just going to see reduced staffing, reduced programs and reduced response,” says Bill Wade, member of the National Association of Park Service Retirees’ executive council.
Campers heading to RMNP will feel a hit too. Recent reconstruction on Bear Lake Road had an expected finish date in late summer, which would have allowed officials to reopen the Glacier Basin Campground. Patterson reports that with the sequester in effect, the campground will now remain closed for the entire summer season, taking 148 campsites and 13 group campsites out of commission.
“We have five campgrounds. All five of those are open during the summer, and normally, our demand always exceeds our supply, especially on east side of the park,” she says.
Both RMNP and Yosemite officials add that staff reductions will affect the ability to plow their high-elevation paved roads. As a result, RMNP’s Trail Ridge Road and Yosemite’s Tioga and Glacier Point Roads may open later and occasionally be closed if springtime snows bluster through the park.
“It’s going to have a rolling impact on visitors,” says Scott Gediman, public affairs officer for Yosemite National Park, which will lose $1.7 million. He adds that while affects may be smaller on early visitors, as the park gets busier, the affects will be felt more.
One example of that rolling impact comes with trail maintenance and scheduled repairs. Initial problems will likely be addressed, but as the number of issues, and their magnitude, increase while staff numbers stay the same, a backlog is inevitable.
Maureen Oltroggee, public affairs director for Grand Canyon National Park, which is planning for a $1.1 million hole, notes that park employees and visitors are not the only ones negatively affected. She points to the restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and shops in nearby communities that rely on tourist dollars to function.
“We’re trying to be cognizant of those communities that visitors spend money in,” Oltroggee says.
The travel industry will be affected as well, something visitors should keep in mind as they prepare for their trip. Park officials recommend that visitors plan their trip early, and Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, advises travelers to expect flight delays and extremely long security lines.
Overall, officials are trying to mitigate the impact wherever possible. Yellowstone’s Nash shares the sentiments of his fellow park officials: “Our goal is to make (smaller) changes (so) that most visitors won’t notice a significant level in our services.”
Also, check out this article from our partner site SNEWSnet.com with more information regarding the cuts.
For up-to-date information, visit:
Yellowstone National Park Information
Yosemite National Park Information
Grand Canyon National Park Information
Rocky Mountain National Park Information