The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is one of the countrys 397 national parks facing an 8 percent budget reduction triggered by automatic spending cuts.
Fixed costs that keep parks running, such as utilities and permanent salaries, already take up 90 percent of the budgets at most parks, leaving what little remains for programs, updating exhibits and seasonal staff expansion, according to Craig Obey, chief lobbyist for NPCA.
The cut would almost certainly mean closed trails, shorter hours for visitor centers, and fewer rangers to host guided tours and react to emergencies. Many parks would not be able to add employees in the peak visiting periods, when traffic more than doubles — which not only means fewer rangers to monitor the trails, but also fewer employees to clean the bathrooms.
In many ways, the parks people saw this coming. During the chaotic deficit negotiations this summer, appropriators axed $140 million from the fiscal 2011 budget, breaking a pledge made by the Bush administration to increase park operating funds by $100 million every year until 2016. The National Park Service is operating on an annual budget of $2.6 billion, nearly $400 million less than it was 10 years ago.
"The challenge is that when you already have that kind of a shortfall, these cuts add up very quickly," Obey said. "If your goal is to deal with the federal deficit, you go where the money is, and this isn't where the money is. What we are talking about is nickel-and-diming."
With 270,000 private-sector employees depending on the parks for their jobs, according to NPCA estimates, rangers are shaking in their boots and — like countless other interest groups — are planning a slew of Capitol Hill visits throughout the next year in an effort to stave off the sequester.