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March 18, 2014 7:11 am

EDITORIAL: National Park Service funding proposal a wise investment

Written by Ilene Olson

After seemingly being used as budgetary pawns in last fall’s federal sequestration, America’s national parks are getting more respect from the federal government these days — and, it appears, more money as well.

In anticipation of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016, President Barack Obama’s budget calls for spending $2.6 billion for national parks, including an increase of $38.5 million for the National Park Service’s essential programs and operational needs, and another $16.6 million for fixed cost increases.

Some might consider the increase a fairly small drop in a large bucket. One report says there is an $11 billion backlog of deferred maintenance — maintenance projects that have not been completed due to inadequate funding — in national parks. Still, Obama’s proposal to increase National Park Service funding is a welcome change from repeated revenue decreases since 2010.

In recent years, visitation to U.S. national parks has increased; however, federal spending for those parks has declined, leaving park managers responsible for doing more with fewer resources.

Increasing national park funding makes a lot of sense, both logistically and economically.

A report released this month shows national parks in the United States generated $26.75 billion in economic activity and supported 243,000 jobs in 2012. That includes nearly $721 million in economic activity in Wyoming, supporting 9,372 jobs. Wyoming’s six national parks include: Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks; Devils Tower and Fossil Butte national monuments; John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, and Fort Laramie National Historic Site.

In 2012, visitors spent $130 million within Yellowstone and an additional $134 million in other parts of Park and Teton counties, according to a March 2013 study compiled for the Wyoming Office of Tourism.

Conversely, the federal sequestration that shut down national parks for 16 days last fall resulted in an economic loss nationally of $414 million, primarily to gateway communities.

All told, the loss in Wyoming to gateway communities near national parks is estimated at nearly $25 million. Closing the entrances to Yellowstone National Park decreased October visitations by 74 percent and cost approximately $15.7 million in loss of economic activity.

Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, told the Casper Star-Tribune that Cody lost around $50,000 in lodging taxes compared with the same time frame in 2012, and many Cody Chamber members in the hospitality industry reported a 20- to 30-percent loss of business during that period.

But the value of national parks goes far beyond money. In a day where the hustle and bustle of everyday life can range from stressful to overwhelming, a trip to a national park can offer the perfect experience for everyone from “families creating once-in-a-lifetime vacation memories to school children exploring a national park in their own backyard,” quoting National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

We, who live close enough to Yellowstone National Park to consider it our backyard, and within a day’s drive of several other national parks, know the value of these American gems. We also understand the need to keep them adequately funded and available to the public.

We urge the U.S. House and Senate to recognize that as well and approve President Obama’s budget recommendation for increasing funding to the parks and help the National Park Service prepare to celebrate its centennial.

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