Last year, the National Park system hosted more than 285 million visitors. This number represents a 10 million-visitor increase over 2008, and comes just shy of breaking the record (287.2 million in 1987). Last week, the Department of the Interior released a report indicating that the National Park system supports more than 223,000 jobs and nearly $14 billion in economic activity across the country, particularly providing support for smaller, local economies.
Despite this indication that interest in the National Parks is at a high, and despite the economic support generated by the National Parks, the FY2011 federal budget provides for a $21.6 million funding decrease over the current FY2010 budget. While this is a small percentage, in reality the National Park system is already facing a $580-million annual operating shortfall and a backlog of maintenance projects that exceeds $9 billion. Moreover, the decrease reverses a committment by the government to restore the operations budget for the National Park system, and falls short of fulfilling the promise of the Obama administration to address the already-existing funding shortfall.
Why are National Parks important?
- A National Park vacation can be an affordable alternative to expensive family trips to Disney World, beach resorts, and other popular destinations.
- Americans are becoming increasingly sedentary, and increasingly content to sit inside and immerse themselves in technology. The beauty and accessibility of the National Parks provides much-needed inspiration to get outdoors, get some exercise, and leave the Blackberry at home.
- National Parks are places of wonder. Waterfalls, canyons, desert, forest, wildlife…as Joni Mitchell once complained, let’s not pave paradise and put up a parking lot. What’s more, however, the National Park Service makes these spaces of wonder accessible to Joe and Jane Six-Pack…and to you and me.
Those are my reasons for asking for a restored budget for the National Park Service, and the reason I donate to the National Park Service. Americans are interested. It stimulates the economy in a real, sustainable fashion, because when visitors come to the parks (domestic and international visitors), they are also supporting local business. Most importantly, I love visiting the National Parks, learning in them, and sharing them with others.
All I’m asking today is that you visit a National Park. Think about the importance it has to you. And then do something about it.
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.