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1995/1996 Government Shutdowns Recalled

September 23, 2013 by · Comments Off on 1995/1996 Government Shutdowns Recalled 

Bill Clinton

Newt Gingrich

Yitzhak Rabin

Editor’s Note: The following story is courtesy of Capital Public Radio.

For those old enough to remember, the government shutdown skirmishing now underway in Washington brings back some not-so-fond memories of late 1995 and early 1996.

That’s the last time a divided government, unable to settle its differences before the money from previous years’ spending bills ran out, forced dozens of agencies to close. Some 800,000 federal workers were told to stay home and millions of Americans were shut out of everything from their national parks to small-business loans.

In fact, in 1995 and ’96 there were two government shutdowns. The first lasted six days in mid-November 1995, the second from mid-December 1995 to early January 1996. For those 26 days, in addition to the national parks, the Smithsonian museums in Washington were also closed. Veterans’ health and welfare services were curtailed, passport applications didn’t get processed, new clinical research patients were not accepted at the National Institutes of Health, and federal contractors had to furlough employees.

According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, the costs of the 1995 shutdowns totaled some $1.4 billion.

While a government shutdown this year would be due to an impasse over a new program — the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare — the shutdowns in 1995 were largely over cuts to existing programs, especially Medicare and Medicaid.

Republicans had won a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years the previous November. Led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, they demanded sharp cuts in government spending in discretionary programs, such as welfare, and so-called entitlements, like Medicaid and Medicare.

When President Clinton vetoed the spending cuts, round one of the shutdown was underway. The White House and Congress quickly agreed to extend spending on a temporary basis, under the condition that the president agree to a plan to balance the federal budget.

But those talks proved fruitless, and round two of the shutdown followed.

The two sides continued talking throughout the holiday season and in the end reached agreement on a deal similar to what was on the table before the shutdown, with cuts to federal spending (though smaller than Republicans had originally demanded) and a path to a balanced budget

According to polls, Republicans quickly bore the blame for shutting the government down. Their hand was weakened when Gingrich told reporters he had forced a shutdown in part because the president made him exit Air Force One by the back door after returning from the funeral of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

President Clinton responds to applause during his State of the Union address in 1997. Vice President Al Gore is at left and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is at right. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

In his State of the Union address that January, Clinton was able to declare the “the era of big government is over.” In November, he easily won re-election over one of the (reluctant) leaders of the shutdown, Republican Sen. Bob Dole.

Having learned some hard lessons in 1995-96, many Republicans seem to realize that a shutdown this year would hurt them more than Democrats. But the political blame may be a bit more muddled: While Republicans control the House, Democrats are in the majority in the Senate and may not escape a share of the responsibility for a shutdown.

And while as many federal programs and employees would be idled in a shutdown as before, large swaths of the government would be deemed essential, and exempt from closing.

Border Patrol agents, air traffic controllers and TSA officers would remain at work. Social Security and other benefits checks would still go out. But with the government relying more on contractors than in 1995, the economic impact from a prolonged shutdown may be bigger this time around.

Click here to read the latest story on the shutdown from The Associated Press.

 

Bar Harbor Dislikes Sequester Ripple Effect

May 29, 2013 by · Comments Off on Bar Harbor Dislikes Sequester Ripple Effect 

A park visitor is set up to photograph Bar Harbor, Maine, from the eastern side of Cadillac Mountain, as fog approaches from the Atlantic Ocean. The line coming off the island to the right is a breakwater that was constructed to block ocean waves from entering the harbor. Photo courtesy of www.acadiamagic.com

Editor’s Note: The Maine Broadcasting Network broadcast the following story last week. Click here to listen to a 3-minute, 21-second audio version of the story.

Last week, inn keepers, restauranteurs and other members of the Bar Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce sat down with top officials at Acadia National Park to clear the air.

Local business leaders said the tourism season is off to a slow start, due in part, to the park’s decision to delay opening up the road to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Acadia officials said budget cuts under sequestration left them no choice. But tourism-dependent businesses said the park should have consulted with them more closely about ways the road could have been opened sooner.

If you’re coming to the Bar Harbor area to explore Acadia National Park, few places are as nice to stay in as the Bar Harbor Inn. Standing on a pier in front of the inn that extends out into Frenchmen Bay, one can see lobster boats, fishing boats, a four-masted schooner. And the Bar Harbor Inn is a beautiful old stone and gray-shingled house that dates back to the late 1800s. The inn has come to depend on the National Park Service opening all of the roads in Acadia National Park in mid-April because people, when they come here, they want to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain.

“They really want to go there, take a picture, enjoy the mountain, the views,” said Fred Link, General Manager of the Bar Harbor Inn.

He said early season guests who booked rooms in advance were upset to learn that the road to the top of Cadillac was closed.

“I mean a lot of them were very disappointed,” said Link. “They came for two or three nights and what a lot of our guests ended up doing was just staying staying for the one night. They decided to go down to southern Maine and maybe spend a night or two there before going home.”

According to the most recent estimates nearly 280 million visits to national parks across the country generated almost $13 billion in revenue in gateway communities, including $186-million in the region surrounding Acadia.

“Acadia is really, for us, what sets us apart from other Maine destinations,” said Chris Fogg, who heads the Bar Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce.

He said sequestration-related cuts at the park have left tourism-dependent businesses in the region uncertain about what the future may hold.

“I think what other communities maybe did better than we did was prepare and meet with the national park management to say, How is this going to impact all of us and what can we do, working together, moving forward, to mitigate some of the impacts of it?” Fogg said.

When officials at Yellowstone National Park announced they would have to wait two weeks to open two entrances blocked by snow, officials in Cody and Jackson, Wyoming worried they could lose as much as four million dollars in hotel revenue. So city officials worked with the park and local chambers of commerce to raise money to open the entrances on time.

“We can’t wait, in 2014, and find out the park is opening a month late again,” said Nancy Tibbets, who runs the Bar Harbor Quality Inn.

She recently attended a meeting where local business leaders’ frustration with Acadia administrators boiled over.

“We went to that meeting with, ‘This is your community and we want to work with you,”‘ said Tibbets. “If it’s a money issue, there’s some ways we can fundraise. We know this is coming. It’s not going to go away.”

Tibbets said park officials were noncommittal about a joint fundraising effort. But Len Bobinchock, Acadia’s Deputy Superintendent, said the park has to approach such ventures cautiously.

“We have to be careful because we’re a federal agency and there are restrictions on us going around and asking for funding, private donations,” Bobinchock said.

According to Bobinchock, the park is committed to doing everything in its power to open on time next spring, and Officials are already working on a budget to figure out how much it would cost.

 

NPS Canceled Furloughs for U.S. Park Police

May 28, 2013 by · Comments Off on NPS Canceled Furloughs for U.S. Park Police 

Jon Jarvis

The remaining furlough days for U.S. Park Police employees have been canceled. The National Park Service (NPS) made the announcement Friday (May 24), before the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

The 641 sworn officers patrol national parkland and monuments in the Washington area, New York City and San Francisco.

The furloughs will officially end June 1, according to a memo from NPS, Federal News Radio, Washington, D.C., reported.

“As a result of cost-cutting measures implemented earlier this year, and now armed with seven months of actual costs — versus projections — we are able to reduce the furlough to the three days already taken,” Jonathan Jarvis, director of NPS, said in a statement. The U.S. Park Police is a division of the National Park Service.

The cost-cutting measures mentioned by Jarvis include limits placed on overtime and travel, canceling the organization’s new recruiting class, and restricting use of park police helicopters to emergencies only.

“This is good news for our employees, good news for our visitors as we start the summer season this Memorial Day Weekend, and good news for the security of our nation’s icons — the places that the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Park Police protect every day,” Jarvis said about the cancelation of the furloughs.

However, Jarvis warned more furloughs could be needed in years to come if sequestration continues.

“We will have to continue to make tough decisions with our limited resources and reevaluate additional cuts and furloughs to our parks and employees,” Jarvis said.

Ian Glick, chairman of the Park Police’s Fraternal Order of Police, called the news “encouraging,” but said other issues within the agency also need to be addressed.

“It is important to point out that the agency is still understaffed, poorly funded and lacks financial control of its own operations,” Glick said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to bring public and congressional attention to the needs of our membership in protecting the public, as well as our historical and natural resources.”

News of the canceled furloughs came the same day 115,000 other federal employees from at least six different agencies were forced to take unpaid leave due to sequestration.

 

Sequester the New Normal for National Parks

May 21, 2013 by · Comments Off on Sequester the New Normal for National Parks 

Old Faithful may be dependable, but the days of regular annual increases in federal support for national parks may be coming to an end.

Sequestration budget cuts might stick at Yellowstone Park, Superintendent Dan Wenk said Monday (May 20).

“What we started with this fiscal year might become the ‘new normal,’” Wenk said while speaking during National Parks Day at the Cody Club luncheon, the Cody (Wyo.) Enterprise reported.

He and Grand Teton Park superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said if President Obama’s proposed budget passes, their budgets will return to previous levels – but neither expects that to happen.

At least for this season, the effects of sequestration were significantly blunted by getting the east and south gates open on time May 3 – rather than two weeks later, as had been expected, Wenk said.

“I don’t know how to put it, other than to say thank you,” Wenk said, regarding local fundraising efforts that paid for Wyoming Department of Transportation crews to do the necessary plowing.

That helped Yellowstone National Park avoid cuts in services, he said.

Instead, the Park Service might increase fishing fees, and has already raised some camping fees, Wenk said.

On the positive side, the park has almost wrapped up another 20-year contract with Xanterra Parks & Resorts as the Yellowstone’s primary concessionaire.

That could result in Xanterra investing up to $140 million in Yellowstone, Wenk said.

It will involve such things as cabins being used to house employees opening up for park guests, as Xanterra builds new employee dormitories, he said.

In other business, Wenk noted the proposed YNP winter use plan is still open for public comment on the park’s website, www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm.

Comments are due by June 17.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we have a proposal which the access community and the environmental community can both accept,” he said.

Wenk also noted the “nine-mile slump” on the east gate road west of Sylvan Pass should be fully repaired this year.

Part of the road collapsed there during the exceptionally strong spring runoff in 2011.

Visitors should expect some delays, and automatic “traffic lights” at the repair site, Wenk said.

 

Three Smoky N.P. Campgrounds Still Closed

May 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Three Smoky N.P. Campgrounds Still Closed 

With no end in sight for the federal sequestration, many attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remain closed, WATE-TV, Knoxville, Tenn., reported.

At the beginning of March, park officials closed down three campgrounds and made several other cuts to make do with a smaller budget.

The campgrounds affected – Look Rock, Abrams Creek and Balsam Mountain – remain closed more than two months later.

Park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said the campgrounds were selected because they are the least frequently used.

Those three campgrounds bring in a total of 54,000 visitors a year, but also require a lot of maintenance.

“To operate these campgrounds, it’s like operating a small city. We have sewage systems and water systems that have to be maintained to meet state health standards and then of course there’s the litter pickup and the garbage removal as well as the mowing and just maintaining those sites so that we’re not damaging the resources that are there,” Soehn explained.

Park visitors who prefer the smaller campgrounds say their closure won’t prevent them from returning to the park.

“This year we are limited in which places we can camp out for our spring and summer and fall campouts, so we’re limited to the Elkmont Campground and some of the other ones that are larger, since we can’t stay in Look Rock or any of the smaller ones,” said campers Michele Montgomery and Kent Buske.

The park has more than 3,000 volunteers, and they say their duties haven’t changed even though seasonal hiring has been limited.

“I haven’t seen any change. What I do, I do the back country office here at Sugarlands. In fact, we have four rangers and more volunteers than we had last year,” said Herb Payne, who has volunteered at the park for 18 years.

With Washington no closer to a resolution on the sequestration issue, park officials do not have a timeframe for when the recreation areas might reopen.

The National Park Service maintains developed campgrounds at seven other locations in the park:

• Big Creek
• Cades Cove
• Cataloochee
• Cosby
• Deep Creek
• Elkmont
• Smokemont

Click here to watch a video on this story.

 

 

 

U.S. Rep. Chiding NPS for Sequester Signage

April 25, 2013 by · Comments Off on U.S. Rep. Chiding NPS for Sequester Signage 

One of the campsites at Linville Falls Campground in North Carolina.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., is investigating the amount the National Park Service spent on signs blaming closures on sequestration cuts, including one at Linville Falls Campground along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Ashville,N.C., the Ashville Citizen-Times reported.

The Highlands Republican joined U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in an April 22 letter asking the secretary of the Department of Interior for information about the signs.

The sign at the campground, located near Linville Gorge, tells visitors the site is closed in red hand-written letters and announces an “operational change due to sequestration.”

The campground is set to open May 24.

“Posting professionally printed metal signs that claim sequestration has forced park closures, such as those posted at Linville Falls Campground in the 11th District, is nothing more than a wasteful political statement,” Meadows said in a written statement on Tuesday.

Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis recently told the oversight committee that he was unaware of any signs but said they are “inappropriate” and would be taken down.

Parkway interim Superintendent Monika Mayr said the sign has since been taken down.

“We got word that the message on the sign was not appropriate,” she said.

The Linville sign was the only one on the parkway that mentioned sequestration, she said. A new sign will go up at the campground, and the nine other closed attractions, telling visitors the location of the next closest open area.

The parkway has its own shop to take care of the 14,000 signs along the road so the cost to produce the sign was low, she said.

“It would be like making a Xerox on a Xerox machine,” she said.

Sequestration is a series of mandated government cutbacks meant to reduce the deficit.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also using signs to tell visitors that sites are closed, though the signs do not mention sequestration, said spokeswoman Dana Soehn.

The signs at Balsam Mountain, Look Rock and Abrams Creek campgrounds and two picnic areas nearby are the same signs the park uses for its seasonal closures. The park simply left the signs up, she said.

The oversight committee is seeking the total amount spent on the signs at all parks, a list of all signs referring to sequestration, and communications between Interior Department, Park Service and President Obama’s office about signs.

“The National Park Service should not be permitted to use money from hardworking taxpayers to advance its own political agenda,” Meadows said.

 

Corps May Ask States to Run Campgrounds

April 24, 2013 by · Comments Off on Corps May Ask States to Run Campgrounds 

View from space of Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota. The lake is formed by a dam on the Missouri River in the western half of the state.

Some campgrounds on Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota may not be mowed as often, or the bathrooms cleaned daily, but they will be open this year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will trim back maintenance because of budget cuts, but it will operate the Missouri River downstream, East Totten Trail, Douglas Bay and Wolf Creek campgrounds in time for Memorial Day weekend, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

However, budget cuts for federal recreation sites are likely to go even deeper in coming years. Rather than possibly close the campgrounds as has happened in other states, the corps will ask if the state Parks and Recreation Department will take them over, said  Todd Lindquist, lake manager.

Lindquist said he wants to get out ahead of the looming situation.

“We want to avoid in two years there’s no federal money and the state doesn’t have any money and there they sit, closed,” Lindquist said. The same situation applies to campgrounds on the Lake Oahe reservoir.

He said his staff will put together operation costs and revenue and present the numbers to the state.

“We’re really just starting these discussions with the state to gauge their interest,” Lindquist said.

Parks director Mark Zimmerman said the potential for the state taking over the federal campgrounds is an interesting development, though it would take an extra injection of funds into his budget to make it happen.

He said revenue from state parks pays for their operations, but staff salaries come from the state’s general fund.

Zimmerman said he needs detailed numbers before he can talk to the governor’s office about funding starting with the 2015-17 biennium.

He said limiting or closing access to campgrounds on the lake would impact recreation, especially now with the growing population in the oil patch and even more pressure on facilities.

Recreation use is up at state parks in the region and Zimmerman expects that will only increase.

“The numbers are strong and more people want to be outdoors,” he said. “We would have to see how it would all shake out.”

Lindquist said his agency just received funding for the 2013 fiscal year and is relieved that it doesn’t have to furlough any employees, which would have immediately affected its ability to operate the campgrounds.

Additional cuts are coming for 2014 and 2015.

He said the corps is trying to adjust how it services the campground, but still maintain an acceptable standard.

“I don’t think people will notice any changes this year,” he said.

 

Opinion: Sequestration is Being Overhyped

April 8, 2013 by · Comments Off on Opinion: Sequestration is Being Overhyped 

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was written by columnist Kellyn Brown and appeared in the Flathead Beacon, Kalispell, Mont. His regular column is titled  “Like I Was Saying…”

When the Beacon conducted an unscientific poll that asked our online readers if the effects of sequestration were being overhyped, 80% of the 225 voters who responded said “yes.” That may be a small sampling but it also reflects the majority of opinions I’ve received in letters and emails. That is, federal agencies and the media are making the automatic budget cuts appear far grimmer than they actually are. And perhaps they are.

It appears Montana’s iconic national parks, which had suggested that plowing could be delayed because of reduced funding, will begin clearing snow on schedule. Chambers of commerce outside of Yellowstone and the nonprofit Glacier National Park Conservancy donated money to make up the difference. If access to either park were substantially delayed, the reaction from surrounding communities that rely on tourism dollars would be apoplectic.

Still, we’re told other effects of across-the-board federal cuts will be very real, very soon. In Glacier Park, they range from earlier campground closings to fewer ranger-led activities. At smaller airports across the country, including Glacier Park International, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided to close control towers. But the impact of either is unlikely to rouse the general public until it is directly felt.

While Montana’s delegation has mostly remained quiet about the looming cuts, other politicians who agreed to this deal have decried the way in which it is being implemented.

In response to campgrounds closing at Wind Cave National Park, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., blasted the National Park Service: “It appears NPS is just another agency following the White House’s lead in trying to find the cuts that can trigger a press release before looking to internal cost-saving measures that are less newsworthy.”

After the FAA chose to close control towers at airports in Bloomington and Decatur (in Illinois), Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, said “it seems short-sighted to me and like the administration wants to inflict pain on the hardworking taxpayers of this country instead of doing their job and running their agency like a business.”

In other words, there are smarter ways to make these cuts, but the federal agencies simply want them to be visibly painful so lawmakers restore funding. And it’s a compelling argument. Can’t the FAA find better ways to trim its budget than closing towers? But another question should also be asked: Is closing the towers, and other cuts, that big of a deal?

Glacier Park International Airport Director Cindi Martin said the tower closing won’t affect operations at the airport, but travelers should expect delays because there will be fewer controllers nationwide.

Other states, and their U.S. lawmakers, appear to have far more at stake than Montana. Along with Davis, Democratic Illinois Rep. Bill Enyart told Politico his district is in a “crisis stage” after furlough notices were sent to 4,500 civilian workers at Scott Air Force Base.

But whether the majority of the country considers the effects of sequestration a “crisis” is an open question. And, unless they do, it’s unlikely that Congress and the president will reach a deal to avert the majority of the cuts anytime soon.

When, and if, enough family vacations are disrupted by shorter park hours, or enough businessmen or women experience multiple flight delays, or enough employees are furloughed or laid off, perhaps then politicians will succumb to pressure. But since the pain is dispersed unevenly, hurting some districts more than others, there may not be a collective outcry.

It will be interesting to see, as sequestration begins to grind away at agency budgets, whether the majority of voters demand that some funding be restored. Right now, that isn’t happening.

 

A Closer Look at the Sequestration/RV Parks

April 5, 2013 by · Comments Off on A Closer Look at the Sequestration/RV Parks 

When the much-feared federal government’s sequestration went into effect on March 1, Jimmy Felton was fit to be tied.

The owner of the Misty River Campground in Townsend, Tenn., a 72-site campground on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, wasn’t certain of his park’s immediate future, thanks to the sequestration (or sequester) which brought forth several campground closings in the nearby national park and numerous other cutbacks across all federally owned lands.

Felton, who also is president of the Tennessee Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, stated, “The campgrounds in Tennessee will be happy to accommodate everybody looking for a camping spot. We still want you to enjoy your vacation. If Uncle Sam doesn’t want you in their campgrounds, we would love for you to come to ours.”

Felton was undoubtedly speaking for all private campground owners in the U.S., both those located near national parks as well as those located on popular routes leading to the national lands who stood to lose business if fewer travelers make their ways to the federal lands this spring and summer.

“In two weeks this will probably be over with,” he said with a tone of optimism. “The lucky part for us in Tennessee, we’re in the off-season. Until springtime, this (cutbacks) won’t affect us much. If this is still going on Memorial Day weekend, that may be different.”

“The main problem is none of the politicians on either side (party) are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re behaving like spoiled little kids. If private industry worked like the government, we’d all be in trouble,” he said.

Across the outdoor hospitality industry, others may not have been as upset as Felton as they saw sequestration join the list of factors, such as a tepid economic recovery and unseasonably high gas prices, that could bite into the coming camping season. But there was still concern.

Max and Cindy Hammer, owners of Beaver Lake Campground, Custer, S.D.

Max Hammer, owner of Beaver Lake Campground in Custer, S.D., was preparing for the opening of his 2013 season on March 15 and was hopeful the sequestration would be a non-factor.

His 99-site park is located in the Black Hills in the southwest corner of the state, in the shadow of Mount Rushmore National Monument and within a 90-minute drive of four other national parks or monuments.

“A great deal of our guests come to the Black Hills because of the national parks. If people are concerned about national parks being open, they will direct their summer trips somewhere else, like the Wisconsin Dells or Branson, which would affect our park,” he speculated.

“According to my source at Mount Rushmore, who was allowed to speak freely, there will be no impact at our five state/region federal parks until about May 1st. Park managers are then planning scaling back elective or proposed programs equal to funding. The public will not see a difference. Rather, they will see 2012 again,” Hammer told Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM).

“The word ‘closed’ will not be used in any fashion for any facility. Hours of operation may be shortened, ranger-led programs may not be scheduled as often and tour times may not be as often for smaller facilities such as the Minuteman Missile Site,” he explained.

“In this scenario,” Hammer concluded, “I do not fear the sequester – I welcome it. I do fear the mainstream media hype to a ‘sky is falling’ scenario.”

As the sequestration surfaced, Hammer was anticipating a good season.

“Reservations are very strong. Our campground is starting to develop into quite a destination. Half of our traffic is repeats, returns and referrals,” he said.

Traffic counts were up around 5% in 2012 across the state and he anticipated a good year in 2013 as well.

“Everybody has settled into higher fuels prices and getting used to it,” he said. In fact, he predicted that traffic counts “will remain the same or grow a little more statewide, even if there are reductions in National Park Service (NPS) services.”

At his park he made many improvements for the coming season to better serve his guests, some of whom stop there on their way to and from Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful

Impact Around Yellowstone National Park Could be Huge

RV parks and campgrounds located at or near the gateways to Yellowstone National Park were still closed for the season when WCM tried to reach them and thus unavailable for comment, but the impact could be considerable there.

Yellowstone Park managers have to trim $1.75 million from Yellowstone’s $35 million annual budget, which will delay the opening of most entrances to America’s first national park by two weeks.

Local tourism industry leaders are not happy with the decision, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. A delay in the park’s traditional early May opening and other service reductions could mean millions of dollars in lost tourism and tax revenues for small, rural towns in Montana and Wyoming.

“I think it’s counterproductive, and I expect a lot of people to be raising hell,” said Mike Darby, whose family owns the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody, Wyoming, at the east gate of Yellowstone.

A two-week delay in Yellowstone’s opening means Cody will miss out on more than 150,000 visitors spending an estimated $2.3 million, according to figures released by the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. Similar shortfalls in four other gateway towns around the park could put total losses from a two-week delayed opening at more than $10 million.

Plenty of Camping Options In California

Debbie Sipe, California

Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), said she anticipates the sequester could help CalARVC parks located near national lands.

“We suspect those parks will see an increase in reservations more because of the uncertainty the consumer sees rather than what reality might be,” she said, meaning that campers may gravitate toward private parks out of the assumption that campgrounds on federal lands are closed.

“One of our biggest fears is just the bad publicity. The public hears ‘Campgrounds Closed at National Parks’ and to be honest, the average person doesn’t know the difference between a national park, a state park and a private park. We were concerned about that last year when the California state parks were going to close. That’s just negative press the consumer sees and concludes, ‘We’ll go to Disneyland this year instead.’”

The reality Sipe and CalARVC are stressing as the sequester begins is that there are “plenty of camping options” at the 800 commercial campgrounds in California.

Kevin Fallon, owner of the 99-site Crescent City KOA near Crescent City, Calif., agrees with Sipe’s conclusion. Fallon’s park is within walking distance of Redwood National Park, and he sees the sequester as a double-edged sword.

“Some of that business will come our way,” he says, speculating that as campers are deterred from finding sites to camp in the national park, they’ll turn to private parks like Fallon’s.

His park features some 10 acres of redwoods, so campers who want to see redwoods might as well come to his park anyway, he reckons. He frequently turns away campers during the peak season when the national park and an adjoining state park are bursting with tourists.

“But as time progresses and budgetary restraints remain in place, then it will affect the national park’s ability to attract and serve guests, which WILL affect our county and the area,” Fallon said. “If the public perception is there is no money to maintain a reasonable level of services for people who desire to come to this area and camp, they’ll probably look somewhere else.”

ARVC Response

The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) issued a statement on March 6, stating that it was working alongside the U.S. Travel Association and others on several fronts to develop a strategy to help end this man-made crisis. The coalition is:

  • Engaging media to voice the travel industry’s concerns.
  • Communicating directly with Congressional offices to inform them of the deep impact the sequester will have on travelers and its ripple in the economy.
  • Activating a grassroots mobile messaging campaign that easily bridges frustrated travelers with lawmakers.
  • Developing economic research to paint a picture of the realities stemming from these reductions.

ARVC further stated that it was aggressively engaging with media outlets aimed at both policymakers and the public. Statements from the Travel Association on the sequester have already received widespread media coverage. The association is also considering select advertisements to highlight the impact of the sequester on travelers and to ask Congress to “Draw the Line” – travelers have waited long enough.

ARVC also stated that it was communicating directly with Congressional offices, particularly those in districts where travel has a particularly strong economic effect, informing them of the deep impact the sequester will have on American travelers and its broader effect across the economy.

ARVC members were also invited to the National Issues Conference for an opportunity to meet face-to-face with Congress.

President Obama

The Unkindest Cuts of All

Skeptics might have seen the sequester coming.

The White House first proposed the sequestration plan in 2011 to avoid a debt limit debate. A reluctant Congress went along with the administration’sU proposal. President Barack Obama signed it into law and even threatened to veto other proposals aimed at averting these cuts.

Back in 2011, few lawmakers, if any, thought deep and indiscriminate spending cuts, totaling about $85 billion and now starting to kick in, were a smart idea.

The across-the-board cuts, set up as a last-resort trigger and based on a mechanism used in the 1980s, became a reality largely because President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, failed to find a way to stop them.

Republicans, influenced by Tea Party and other conservative factions, insisted on just spending cuts to narrow the deficit. Tax increases were out.

Obama and the Democratic-run Senate didn’t budge from a mix of cuts and increased tax revenues.

Despite the administration’s barnstorming tour days before the March 1 deadline, Congress could not reach a compromise.

Department of Interior officials who oversee the national parks dispensed a laundry list of cutbacks at all 397 national parks, forests and recreation areas.

Across the entire park system, 900 permanent positions that currently are vacant will not be filled, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said March 8 in a memo to the entire agency.

“In an organization with 15,000 permanent employees, 900 vacant jobs have a profound effect. Every activity will be affected. Some impacts will be immediate, others will accumulate over time,” Jarvis said. “Fewer law enforcement rangers and USPP (United States Park Police) officers mean lower levels of protection and longer response times. Fewer maintenance personnel mean that parks may have to close facilities completely when breakdowns occur – and that the $12 billion maintenance backlog will continue to grow.”

Jon Jarvis

Among the specific announced cutbacks were these:

  • Blue Ridge Parkway will cut 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, resulting in the closure of 50% of its visitor centers and contact stations. Eliminating seven stations will put 80 miles between open facilities along the parkway, reducing the interpretive information available to visitors.
  • Gettysburg National Military Park will eliminate 20% of its Student Education Programs this spring, canceling field trips for 2,400 students.
  • Glacier National Park will delay the reopening of Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks. Previous closures of the road resulted in lost revenue for surrounding communities and concessions of $1 million per day, a potentially devastating blow to businesses that depend on the park for tourism dollars.
  • Mount Rainier National Park will close its Ohanapecosh Visitor Center permanently, eliminating this resource for 60,000-85,000 visitors annually.
  • Grand Canyon National Park will delay the seasonal opening of its East and West Rim Drives, and reduce hours of operation at the main visitor center – impacting a quarter of a million visitors.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park in California will keep its main road and campgrounds closed for an additional two weeks this spring, and close the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center for two days each week. The Red Bluff Daily News reports that this will affect 1,100 schoolchildren who would normally visit the park during these weeks, and the park will lose about $156,000 in revenue.
  • Shenandoah National Park has delayed the opening of campgrounds, picnic areas, and visitor centers, as well as the hiring of seasonal employees, park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog told The Daily Progress newspaper in Virginia. Preventative search and rescue operations have been scrapped, eliminating an effective program that placed people at trailheads and on trails, making sure that hikers had water and a plan to keep themselves safe on challenging trails.

“A $110 million cut will not only be devastating to the parks themselves, but to the many businesses and communities that rely on them to drive sales,” said Perry Wheeler, a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association, in an e-mail. “Our national parks represent just 1/14th of 1% of the federal budget, and they sustain a quarter-million in private sector jobs and generate $31 billion from tourism and recreation alone. Every dollar invested in the National Park Service generates about $10 in economic activity.”

Derrick Crandall, ARC president

ARC’s Crandall Takes High Road

The prevailing opinion in the outdoor hospitality industry is that efforts to reduce federal spending by cutting back on all government services, including the nation’s public lands, will be bad for private RV parks and campgrounds as well.

“I wish I could tell you there will be no impact,” Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), told WCM. “The impact will be a lot less than a lot of the hype in the media, and less than the impact of rising gasoline prices over the last month.”

However, looking at the situation more as an opportunity and less a crisis, he said the present is a good time for the private sector (RV park and campground owners as well as RV manufacturers) to be proactive with the federal government and help scrutinize their expenditures.

“Owners can sit back and accept those cuts, then complain to members of Congress or they can look for a sustainable solution to become a partner with federal programs we would like to make sustainable, no matter what happens,” Crandall said.

“First of all, whether or not sequestration happens in its current form,” he said days before the March 1 deadline, “we’re looking at a lean period for budgets of National Park Service and other public land providers,” Crandall said. “Sequestration gets all the (current) spotlight, but the overall budget projections for federal agencies that now serve a billion visitors are not good for the next several years. It is an issue that everybody in the recreation field should be looking at.”

The private sector is good at operating on reduced budgets – businesses routinely do so during lean times, Crandall said, but the concept is almost alien to the federal government.

“Most of us had our personal budgets affected by the downturn in the economy starting in 2007,” he said, “but the recovery spending of 2008-2010 allowed the federal agencies to continue without any impact from the recession.”

Crandall opposes across-the-board cuts in agencies like the National Park Service, because such cuts would cut “muscle and bone as well as fat.”

Crandall thinks a smarter approach would be to give the heads of all of the agencies the flexibility to implement these cuts responsibly by eliminating waste and duplication from their departments.

Indeed, Crandall took this opportunity to ask agencies like the NPS, which enacted a $115 million cutback via sequestration, to work with the private sector for the betterment of both.

ARC began asking groups known in the industry as destination marketing organizations (DMOs), such as chambers of commerce and convention and visitors and bureaus, located near federal lands to begin deploying some of their financial resources to public lands.

For example:

  • In Bend Ore., an area with several national forests, ARC suggests DMOs use some of their advertising dollars to help with mountain bike patrols, apps and websites and sponsor joint programs. Rangers could be paid by the private sector to give interpretative programs at nearby privately owned campgrounds.

Something akin to this already occurs on cruises to Alaska in which NPS rangers come aboard the ships in Glacier Bay and elsewhere to talk about glaciers and whales. The cruise lines pay for this service.

“It’s time for campgrounds to say, if it would enhance the experience of our guests by having a park service ranger coming in to give presentations, now is the time we should pick up some of the costs,” Crandall said.

Crandall said the NPS collects $300 million in fees annually but could expand that by more than enough to offset the 5% cutback that is coming through sequestration just by making entrance fees more reasonable. The biggest parks charge $25 per vehicle, no matter whether it contains two people or eight people and no matter whether they’re staying for an afternoon or a week.

An airport charges for parking based on length of stay; parks should begin doing the same, he said.

“It’s time for us to say if you go into Yosemite and spend a week, you pay more than for a family that spends an afternoon there. The American public is willing to pay more in entrance fees and to campsites if they know the agencies will give them good value,” he said.

The NPS derives 93% of its operating funds from government appropriations; that percentage should come down as users pay more of their fair share, Crandall argued.

In a similar vein, “International visitors probably should pay more or not be able to buy an America the Beautiful pass that is good for a year for $80. International visitors need to pay something (a premium) that reflects that American taxpayers are helping to pay for national parks. It’s time to no longer subsidize those visits to national parks.”

He raised this argument again when he addressed the RVIA’s annual meeting in Florida in early March.

The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Statue of Liberty Dilemma

The government’s outdated way of doing business in times of disaster, such as following Superstorm Sandy last fall, is another example of how the federal government should amend its spending ways, Crandall said.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which provide the federal government $20 million in concessioner franchisee fees annually, were closed immediately following the storm and remain closed. The closing has led to the layoff of 500 workers who manned the ferry service and work with private concessioners. The ferry service was halted because docks on the island were damaged.

Yet, the day after the storm hit, concessioners met with NPS officials and offered to rebuild the docks. NPS said “thanks” but let’s wait until the Congress acts with disaster relief, Crandall explained.

Eventually, Congress passed legislation to provide the funding to return the island to normal.

“Sometime before 2014, we’ll have the Statue of Liberty reopened to the public,” Crandall said, but it could have been much sooner if the government had followed private enterprise’s lead.

Similarly, Crandall said the Statue of Liberty could be run more like a business if its hours of operation were extended. Until the storm hit, the last boat of the day left at 3:30 p.m.

“If we kept the Statue open until 10 p.m., you could see beautiful sunsets over New York Harbor and increase annual visitation of 4 million to 5 million or 6 million,” Crandall estimated. This increased visitation would raise current venue of $80 million by another $20 million to $30 million, he said.

In the meantime, campground owners like Jimmy Felton in Tennessee are thinking the fallout from the sequestration, no matter how long it lasts, will not be too great.

“There is always the risk that the public will get scared,” meaning that some will opt not to go camping this spring. But, he quickly points out that the private sector campgrounds usually offer so many more amenities than the public lands that the campers who frequent the more primitive sites in national parks aren’t the same ones that patronize the private campgrounds.

 

Utah Will Promote ‘Mighty Five’ National Parks

March 28, 2013 by · Comments Off on Utah Will Promote ‘Mighty Five’ National Parks 

Red sandstone formations in Arches National Park in Utah.
Photograph by Simon Christen, submitted to My Shot.

The Utah Office of Tourism launched a $3.1 million spring/summer regional television advertising campaign at the Capitol Wednesday (March 27) to promote Utah’s five national parks known as “The Mighty Five.”

The campaign will include TV commercials in Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as digital outdoor, wallscapes, online, and social media, The Standard-Examiner, Ogden, reported.

“Utah’s five stunning national parks contribute to Utah’s economy in a meaningful way by creating much-needed jobs and impacting local economies in gateway communities and surrounding areas,” said Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert.

“We are really excited to launch ‘The Mighty Five’ to promote our iconic national parks that are becoming more popular, especially with international visitors who come to experience the red rock of the Desert Southwest,” said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, Film, and Global Branding, an agency of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Whether you’re looking for memorable family fun, an adrenaline rush, or the solace of nature, you’re sure to discover an unforgettable experience that can only be found in Utah.”

Visitation has continued to increase at Utah’s national parks, even in a down economy. In 2012, 6.5 million recreation visits were made to Utah’s five national parks. Another 5.1 million recreation visits occurred at Utah’s seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, and one national historic site.

Spots for the television campaign can be viewed on the Office of Tourism’s YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/utahtourism.  Three-, five-, and seven-day itineraries to visit ‘The Mighty Five’ parks can be found online at http://www.visitutah.com/parks-monuments/mighty5/.

The National Park Service reports no Utah parks will be closed, but services may be impacted due to the sequestration.

 

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