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Feds Let States Pay to Reopen National Parks

October 10, 2013 by · Comments Off on Feds Let States Pay to Reopen National Parks 

Under pressure from governors, the Obama administration said Thursday (Oct. 10) it will allow some shuttered national parks to reopen — as long as states use their own money to pay for park operations.

The Associated Press reported that governors in at least four states have asked for authority to reopen national parks within their borders because of the economic impacts caused by the park closures.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the government will consider offers to use state money to resume park operations, but will not surrender control of national parks or monuments to the states.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state would accept the federal offer to reopen Utah’s five national parks.

Utah would have to use its own money to staff the parks, and it will cost $50,000 a day to operate just one of them, Zion National Park, said Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, Ally Isom.

It was not clear if the federal government would reimburse states that pay to reopen parks. Costs could run into the millions of dollars, depending on how long the shutdown lasts and how many parks reopen.

Governors of Arizona, South Dakota and Colorado have made similar requests to reopen some or all of their parks.

A spokesman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the Republican governor is committed to finding a way to reopen the Grand Canyon, one of the state’s most important economic engines

“It’s not ideal, but if there’s something we can do to help reopen it, Gov. Brewer has been committed to trying to find that way,” said spokesman Andrew Wilder.

To read the entire article click here.

Report: Parks Lose $76M a Day on ‘Shutdown’

October 10, 2013 by · Comments Off on Report: Parks Lose $76M a Day on ‘Shutdown’ 

The partial government shutdown’s toll on national parks can be measured in lost visitors, lost spending — and lost revenue to the federal government.

Lost visitors: 715,000 a day.

Lost spending: $76 million a day.

Lost revenue to the federal government, in the form of entrance fees and rentals: $450,000 a day.

And, according to a report by USA Today, with the shutdown entering its 10th day, multiply those numbers by 10.

The numbers come from data compiled by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and are based on October 2012 government park attendance data and an analysis of economic impacts by Headwaters Economics.

“These figures are mind-boggling, and they only begin to capture the full economic shock” of the shutdown, said Maureen Finnerty, former superintendent of Everglades and Olympic National Parks. And it’s not just federal employees and visitors feeling the pain, she said. Often, national parks support hundreds of hospitality jobs in surrounding communities.

Finnerty defended the National Park Service’s controversial decision to close open-air parks and memorials. Opening the parks without putting rangers back to work would only enable “enabling looting, poaching, and vandalism,” she said.

Almost 87% of the National Park Service’s 24,645 employees have been sent home during the shutdown, which started Oct. 1 when Congress failed to enact a spending bill.

To read the entire article click here.

U.S. National Parks: Passe in the iPhone Age?

August 15, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Visits to U.S. national parks since 1960. Numbers at right indicate millions of visitors. Chart reprinted from The Economist.

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in The Economist, a leading international newspaper based in London, England.

EVERY year over 9 million people visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park — more than twice the number who gawp at the Grand Canyon. The scenery is stupendous: from the top of Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest points in the Appalachians, a mesmerising series of hunchback ridges slopes towards the horizon, each one a paler blue echo of the last. The park also boasts over 1,000 miles of hiking, biking and riding trails, a collection of well-preserved frontier cabins, and all manner of intriguing fauna, from orange salamanders to black bears.

Yet in the 30-odd years that Kent Cave has been working there, the sense that, for many tourists, the park is “an obstacle to be overcome” on the way between the souvenir stores of Cherokee, N.C., and the amusement parks of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., has grown ever stronger.

The number of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park peaked in 1999, at 10.3 million. The decline since then has been relatively small. (Hard economic times favor cheap holidays.) Much the same is true of America’s whole network of national parks and monuments, which received almost 283 million visitors last year, just shy of the 287 million reached in 1987 and 1999.

Simply holding their own, however, is something of a setback for America’s parks, where ever-higher numbers of visitors used to be the norm (see chart). Moreover, the average age of those who visit appears to be increasing, although data are scant. In the Smokies, the share of summer visitors aged 61 or over rose from 10% during a survey conducted in 1996 to 17% in a similar sounding in 2008; the share of those 15 and under fell from 26% to 22%.

The National Park Service has all manner of explanations for its stagnating popularity. The simplest is that other forms of entertainment are distracting Americans from its charms. As Jonathan Jarvis, its director, put it in 2011: “There are times when it seems as if the national parks have never been more passé than in the age of the iPhone.” A spokesman cites the proliferation of middle-class holiday options in recent decades, from time-share accommodation that makes a regular stay at the beach affordable to family-focused developments in spots like central Florida and Las Vegas.

Jon Jarvis

The park service also worries that America’s minorities, who make up an ever-increasing share of the population, are not as interested in its wonders as whites. “Many immigrants come from places that have no history of parks, and they arrive with no cultural connection to places like Yellowstone or Gettysburg or Independence Hall,” Jarvis noted.

Focus Groups

In response, the park service has come up with new ways to endear itself to younger, browner, technology-obsessed Americans. It has held focus groups with blacks and Hispanics to find out why they stay away. It started a program to come up with potential parks and monuments that would reflect the history of Latinos in America, which led, among other things to the creation of a monument honouring Cesar Chavez, a Hispanic labour leader. A similar tilt toward Asian-Americans is now underway. And individual parks make a special effort to attract minorities in their hinterland, from Hindus near the Gateway National Recreation Area in New York to Vietnamese near Lowell National Historic Park in Massachusetts.

At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, meanwhile, the staff stress their efforts to engage the young and tech-savvy. They have devised a scavenger hunt conducted using satellite-navigation devices and helped to create podcasts explaining how to avoid being killed by a bear (sing as you hike so you don’t surprise it), among other subjects.

Rangers give lectures with titles like “Treemendous Program” and “Yukky Animal Stuff” (Sniff a skunk pelt! Ogle bear scat!). Young people who attend enough of them can earn the title of “junior ranger.” Families can earn badges marking how far they have hiked together on the park’s trails. An attempt was even made to lure fitness fanatics into the park by offering a jog with a ranger. Alas, it was called off for lack of interest. (The park service as a whole still runs a campaign on the healthful effects of visiting, called “Take a hike and call me in the morning.”)

It is not clear, however, that all this will be enough to convince people to turn away from their iPhones or spend less time at Dollywood, a nearby amusement park owned by Dolly Parton, a rather successful local country singer. A 12-year-old boy queuing to ride “Wild Eagle,” Dollywood’s newest rollercoaster, explains that he has visited the amusement park four times, most recently with a youth group from his church, but has never heard of the national park. If he drove through it on the way from his home in North Carolina, he says, no one in the bus mentioned it.

 

Editorial: Let’s Get Creative with Park Funding

July 30, 2013 by · Comments Off on Editorial: Let’s Get Creative with Park Funding 

Americans value their natural resources, such as Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful.

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in The Billings (Mont.) Gazette:

On a summer day, Yellowstone National Park attracts more than 30,000 visitors. They will drive the park’s 310 miles of paved roads, hike some of its 1,000 miles of trails, visit some of its 900 historic buildings, occupy 2,000 park hotel rooms and cabins and a dozen park campgrounds. Many dozens more hotels and campgrounds in Montana and Wyoming border towns will have “no vacancy” signs during Yellowstone’s summer peak.

Yellowstone Park is the crown jewel of the region’s tourism industry, attracting 3.4 million visitors last year from across the nation and around the globe.

Yellowstone fans need to know that all is not well: their park is being starved.

Yellowstone’s permanent workforce of 300 was reduced by 10% for this season. Those 30 vacancies affect all facets of park services.

“It’s everything from maintenance foreman to law enforcement and interpretive rangers,” Superintendent Dan Wenk told The Billings Gazette in a recent interview at the park’s Mammoth, Wyo., headquarters. Visitors will probably see fewer rangers out in the park and fewer seasonal researchers, Wenk said. The park firefighting staff has been reduced. One of two deputy superintendent positions has been eliminated permanently, but Wenk said other vacant positions will have to be filled.

Yellowstone and other national parks have been underfunded for decades. Yellowstone’s deferred maintenance backlog includes work on deteriorated and substandard roads and wastewater treatment facilities.

The park’s tight budget became much tighter this year with the effects of the federal “sequester” that imposed across-the-board spending cuts.

“We’re going to have to make difficult choices,” Wenk said. The priorities will be “protect this park” and “provide the highest-quality visitor experience we can.”

That same dilemma was echoed last week in a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in the Capitol. Several senators, leaders of park advocacy groups and National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis discussed ideas for adequate funding of America’s national parks.

At the end of fiscal 2012, the NPS had a deferred maintenance backlog of $11.5 billion, Jarvis told the committee. It needs $700 million annually just to keep that backlog from growing. Last year, NPS had $444 million for deferred maintenance.

Additionally, the parks are underfunded this year by $600 million on operations, according to Craig Obey of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

“National park operations funding is down 13% in today’s dollars from where it was only three years ago, and the construction budget has declined by nearly 70% over the last decade in today’s dollars,” Obey told the Senate committee.

Some Solutions

Clearly, national park funding must be improved. But the sequester cuts apparently are here to stay. However, there are creative, workable options that can supplement congressional appropriations:

  1. Raise user fees, starting with park entrance fees and keep that money in the park that collects it.
  2. Expand the use of public-private partnerships for park projects.
  3. Recruit more volunteers to help provide park services.

Although the NPS has some discretion to raise entrance fees, it is imperative that Congress acts to reauthorize the 2004 law that allows parks to keep entrance fees. Otherwise, the fee provision of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act will expire in December 2014. Presently, parks are permitted to retain 80% of the entrance fees they collect; the balance goes to a fund for all parks.

The three ideas enumerated above would be particularly beneficial to Yellowstone because it is so popular. However, eliminating the entire NPS maintenance backlog while meeting the operating needs of all park units will take a lot more money and changes that are politically difficult.

National Parks Conservation Association supports using 1 cent of any increase in the federal fuel tax to repair and improve roads in national parks and forests.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and some other GOP senators want to redirect the bulk of Land and Water Conservation Fund revenues (which come from offshore oil drilling) to repair park roads for 10 years to clear the backlog.

Bipartisan park support

Senators voiced strong bipartisan support for protecting and maintaining America’s national parks but indicated partisan differences on how to close the large gap between current funding and what our parks need.

We urge the Montana and Wyoming delegations to make action on park funding a high priority for the coming year. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier and Little Bighorn National Battlefield are our American heritage.

The centennial of the National Park Service will be in 2016. Now is the time to focus on getting America’s parks up-to-date and ready for their next century.

 

 

‘Road Kill’ from National Parks Needs Tracking

July 30, 2013 by · Comments Off on ‘Road Kill’ from National Parks Needs Tracking 

Drivers in America’s national parks are killing the very bears, deer, wolves and other animals they’re hoping to see, says a new report seeking changes to the way park managers deal with conflicts between cars and wildlife, USA Today reported.

“The wildlife is being sacrificed in order to be viewed,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which researched roadkill deaths in national parks. PEER said the 401-unit national park system lacks a systematic way of tracking when wildlife is hurt or killed by drivers, making it hard to reduce roadkill and to gather an accurate count of the national toll.

The public employee group filed Freedom of Information Act requests to collect some snapshots of the toll in some national parks. Yosemite National Park officials, for instance, reported that 300 black bears were struck by cars from 1995-2012, but couldn’t say exactly how many of those died from injuries later. Park officials even launched a campaign to warn drivers about the potential for collisions, but discovered park visitors were stealing the warning signs, PEER found.

Click here to read the entire story.

 

Parks Group: House Budget Plan is ‘Crippling’

July 24, 2013 by · Comments Off on Parks Group: House Budget Plan is ‘Crippling’ 

A budget plan drafted in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next fiscal year would be crippling to the National Park Service if implemented, according to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

National Parks Traveler reported that the bill, approved by the House Interior Appropriations Committee, “continues a trend of eroding the Park Service budget, as well as damaging policy amendments that threaten the health of some national parks,” the park advocacy group said in a release.

While the Obama administration has proposed a roughly $2.6 billion FY14 budget for the Park Service, of which $2.2 billion would be destined for the “park operations” sub-category of the agency’s budget, the budget drafted by the House committee calls for a total Park Service budget of $2.3 billion, with $2.1 billion devoted to park operations, the category that pays for actual national park management costs.

According to the NPCA release, while the legislation does boost the operations budget line by $24 million above current levels, it nevertheless cuts funding more than $115 million below the dollar amount for park operations that was in place prior to the sequester that forced a roughly 5 percent across-the-board cut on the Park Service.

“This bill demonstrates a clear recognition that national park operations have been cut too much but without the means to provide the National Park Service with the resources it needs to truly protect our parks. It retains damaging sequester funding levels, will continue to limit the ability of the National Park Service to keep visitor facilities open, and will continue to grow the backlog,” said Craig Obey, NPCA’s senior vice president for government affairs.

“As long as the Interior appropriations subcommittee continues to receive funding allocations with their roots in fantasy rather than reality, our national parks, historic places and cultural treasures will be at ever-increasing risk. The American people and local businesses that expect and depend upon the parks and park facilities to be open and well-run will get parks that are able to do less, because they have less to work with.”

Zion National Park Tops MissTravel.com ‘List’

July 19, 2013 by · Comments Off on Zion National Park Tops MissTravel.com ‘List’ 

Website lists popular national parks.

Utah is known for its five iconic national parks, but one in particular is getting attention for something other than its scenery.

When it comes to sexiness, Utah’s Zion National park stands out among the rest. That’s according to a survey conducted by destination-dating website MissTravel.com.

In a press release, the website said that one in five travelers have “done the deed” on public lands. It also revealed that ZIon is the No. 1 national park where the most sexual indiscretions have taken place, based on 8,500 single travelers.

“Mother Nature inspires people to shed their inhibitions and give in to their primal urges,” Brandon Wade, founder & CEO of MissTravel.com, said in a press release. “At a national park, there are lots of secluded areas off the beaten path, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a quiet, romantic spot for two people to be alone together.”

Utah’s Arches National Park also made the top 10 list, coming in at No. 5.

Below is the full list of MissTravel.com’s Top 10 Sexiest National Parks.

  1. Zion National Park – Utah
  2. Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
  3. Redwood National Park – California
  4. Mammoth Cave National Park – Kentucky
  5. Arches National Park – Utah
  6. American Samoa National Park – American Samoa
  7. Biscayne National Park – Florida
  8. Big Bend National Park – Texas
  9. Congaree National Park – South Carolina
  10. Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee

Will There be Camping at Moon National Park?

July 12, 2013 by · Comments Off on Will There be Camping at Moon National Park? 

A supermoon climbed its way to the top of the Washington Monument on June 23  in Washington, D.C. Two Congressmen have proposed creating a national park on the moon. Photo courtesy of NASA and Bill Ingalls.

Editor’s Note: Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation’s capital. He provided the following editorial.

Two U.S. lawmakers have filed legislation that would establish a U.S. national park on the moon.

No, we’re not making this up. Democratic Reps. Donna Edwards of Maryland and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas are proposing a moon-based Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park.

“As commercial enterprises and foreign nations acquire the ability to land on the moon, it is necessary to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites for posterity,” reads H.R. 2617, otherwise known as the “Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act.”

Load up the mini-van, kids! We’re skipping the Smoky Mountains this year. Go now – there aren’t many rest stops on the way.

Sorry. Getting back to reality, both lawmaker sponsors are members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. They say that setting up a Moon National Park would preserve artifacts left on the moon’s surface and provide for “greater recognition and public understanding of this singular achievement in American history.”

They’re proposing that NASA work with the Department of the Interior and the Park Service to manage access to, provide interpretation of, and help historically preserve all areas where astronauts and instruments connected with the 1969-72 Apollo space program touched the lunar surface.

The bill would also allow the US to accept private and international donations to help pay for this huge project, and it would require the Department of the Interior to apply to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for designation of the park as a World Heritage Site.

OK, we’re got a few questions here.

Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon in 1969.

DO WE OWN THE MOON? Don’t U.S. national parks have to be, you know, on U.S. territory? Last we looked the moon was not yet the 51st state, despite Newt Gingrich’s past efforts to make it so. (No, we’re not making that up either – then-Congressman Gingrich once filed a bill that would have allowed a moon base to apply for statehood.)

While the bill talks about moon landing sites, it appears to define the prospective park only in terms of artifacts left behind by astronauts, which presumably remain U.S. property. Maybe it skirts the ownership issue via a technicality.

HOW WILL WE GET THERE? Talk about an Odyssey for your Honda – that’s a long way, the moon. Perhaps lawmakers will see this as a way to encourage a burgeoning commercial space tourism industry. It would be like the Dry Tortugas National Park, which is in the ocean 70 miles off Key West, and accessible only by private boat or charter. Only it would be 239,000 miles away, and accessible via private pressurized space vehicle.

WILL THERE BE SOUVENIRS? As any visitor to a national park knows – especially those with children – no trip is complete without a visit to the souvenir store. Many of these sell astronaut ice cream, so presumably that would be a big seller on the actual Moon as well. Slogan T-shirts (“I swam in the Sea of Tranquility!”) are always hot. Maybe they’ll sell replicas of the six-iron Alan Shepard sneaked onto Apollo 14 to hit a few golf balls on the lunar surface.

“I’m gonna try a little sand trap shot here,” said Shepard at the time.

Come to think of it, a nine-hole moon golf course concession might pay for the whole park.

 

Gallop Poll Confirmed Americans Value Parks

July 12, 2013 by · Comments Off on Gallop Poll Confirmed Americans Value Parks 

The latest Gallop poll shows that Americans value their natural resources, such as Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful.

Three-quarters of Americans are satisfied with the work the federal government does in responding to natural disasters, and nearly as many applaud the government’s efforts on national parks and open space, according to the latest Gallop poll.

A majority also rate the government positively for its handling of homeland security, transportation, and the military and national defense. Americans are most likely to be dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the nation’s finances and poverty.

The results are based on a June 20-24 Gallup poll asking Americans to assess the federal government’s performance for each of 19 functions it handles. While Americans are more dissatisfied than satisfied with most of the functions, there are key areas of strength for the government, notable at a time when Americans are so critical of the government in general.

Americans may be satisfied with the government’s role in national parks and transportation because these are generally noncontroversial areas that require relatively limited government funding and attention. For example, the Department of Transportation and the Department of the Interior (which contains the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management) made up only a combined 3% of President Barack Obama’s proposed 2013 federal budget.

To read the entire news release, click here.

Here’s a table showing one survey question and its results:

 

Red Orbit.com Profiles U.S. National Parks

April 18, 2013 by · Comments Off on Red Orbit.com Profiles U.S. National Parks 

In conjunction with National Park Week, Red Orbit Inc. has posted a number of quick overviews of many of the nation’s national parks. Go to www.redorbit.com to see these overviews.

RedOrbit Inc., headquartered in Texas, was founded in November 2002 by Eric Ralls. The website, www.RedOrbit.com, was launched in May 2003, with the goal of creating the largest, most unique Internet community, with the strongest consumer brand, in the most underserved niche on the web. RedOrbit.com has since become a popular Internet destination for space, science, health, and technology enthusiasts around the globe.

 

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