The state of our national parks: The future looks gloomy without funding

Damaged road in Glacier National Park


Imagine returning to your favorite national park for the Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016 to find it terribly degraded, or worse - closed.

As a national park visitor, you could soon face any number of harrowing realities if national parks continue to be underfunded, according to a report by the National Parks Conservation Association Made in America: Investing in National Parks for Our Heritage and Our Economy:

The results of funding shortages for national parks: 

  • Campgrounds and other areas shut down: Campgrounds, visitor centers, even parks themselves could be closed.

  • Fewer rangers: Less rangers will be available, if any (meaning longer emergency response times).

  • Cuts to educational programs: Lack of funding could result in an inability to accommodate environmental education programs with school groups.

  • Damages to beloved sites: With fewer rangers and park resources, historical and cultural icons, including archaeological sites may slip into disrepair or be vandalized.

  • Cuts to research: We can expect decreases in or elimination of critical scientific research, including monitoring of endangered species.

If visitors like you consequently find these places less attractive, then dollars will be spent elsewhere, and local communities who rely on them could be without jobs.

A growing budget crisis

For the past decade, the National Parks Service has been facing a growing budget crisis, the worst in half a century. While attendance remains strong, at nearly 200 million visitors annually, many parks have had to postpone maintenance projects for years as their budget has struggled to barely cover basic operating expenses, according to the Washington Post.

There have been many layoffs due to spending cuts in the last few years that add up to about $135 million or six percent, the least that any of the land management agencies have had to endure. The president’s budget proposal would reduce the number of employees and volunteers, according to the Washington Post.

Private fundraising has helped, but has only covered about $150 million out of a total of $2.6 billion in backlogged project expenses.

Unfortunately, the future isn’t looking much brighter. An additional devastating eight percent cut is looming on the horizon, expected to occur as part of an across-the-board mandated cut under the Deficit Control Act if Congress fails to make budgetary changes on its own by the turn of the year. The Park Service's roughly $3 billion annual budget represents less than a tenth of one percent of the entire federal budget, but eight percent could add up to another $180 million cut, meaning major changes will need to be made.

Though the president’s budget proposal for 2013 would reduce slightly the number of employees and volunteers at the National Park Service, according to the Washington Post, it would still be a far better alternative than an 8 percent budget cut brought on by Congressional inaction.

Poll shows the public wants national park funding

Unlike other cuts proposed to the federal budget, however, the American public has overwhelmingly expressed that the government should not make them to the Park Service. According to a recent poll by the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Park Hospitality Association:

  • 92 percent of the American public indicated that they don't want the Park Service budget cut.
  • 45 percent thought that the National Park Service's funding should be increased.
  • Only six percent of respondents think that National Parks are in good shape today.
  • 80 percent express concern that funding shortages are damaging National Parks.

Read more about the poll in “Americans Agree: Our National Parks Need our Support."