Associations Aid National Parks Amid Funding Concerns

As Congress debates future funding for the national parks, several associations have stepped up to assist parks being hit hard by the sequester.

National parks are starting to feel the pinch as a result of the federal government’s automatic spending cuts—known as sequestration—that went into effect earlier this year. The parks join a long list of sectors hit hard by the sequester, including science and research, meetings and conventions, and national security.

It’s a one-time thing. We can’t do this next year.

For the nation’s treasured parks, a temporary plug has been found, thanks to several national park associations and nonprofit and private donations—though the groups involved are concerned that these quick fixes won’t be sustainable over the long term.

The Grand Teton Association, which has helped support Grand Teton National Park in Moose, Wyoming, by running the onsite bookstore and donating the proceeds to the park, was able to secure a one-time donation of $135,000 with help from the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve Center and an anonymous private donor. The gift went toward keeping a visitor center, park ranger station, and preserve center open.

“It’s a one-time thing,” Jan Lynch, the association’s executive director, told the Billings Gazette. “We can’t do this next year.”

Jackie Skaggs, a spokeswoman for the park, told the Gazette that, because of the decreased funding—the park lost about $700,000 in government support this year—Grand Teton is being impacted by a staff that is stretched thin while visitation numbers have been on the rise. The park had 237 seasonal employees in 2010, compared with just 156 this year, and the number of full-time staff has been cut down as well.

Meanwhile, the Yellowstone Association put out a call to volunteers who work in Yellowstone National Park and received a tremendous response. Last year the association donated more than 16,000 volunteer hours—roughly equal to a $350,000 donation, said Executive Director Jeff Brown.

But while the group will do what it can to support the park, Brown said, “the federal government can’t just abdicate [its] responsibility.”

Before leaving Washington, DC, for its August recess, Congress tabled discussions on the appropriations bill for the parks. When lawmakers return, quick passage is unlikely, as the two chambers are far apart on how much funding the parks should receive.

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) applauded the Senate version of the Interior appropriations bill, which included nearly $350 million more than the House version and essentially erased the sequestration cuts.

“These two bills illustrate stark, alternative futures for our national parks,” Craig Obey, senior vice president for government affairs at NPCA, said in a statement. “Ultimately, the best way to protect the future of our parks is for Congress and the president to work together on a grand budget deal that addresses the deficit drivers and ends these indiscriminate discretionary cuts that threaten our national parks, the experience of park visitors, and gateway economies that depend on the upkeep of our national treasures.”

(Digital Vision/Thinkstock)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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