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Sequester Dings National Parks

Feb. 27, 2013—The nation’s 398 national parks generate $30 billion in economic activity annually. So why would anyone want to feed those cash cows less hay? That seemed to be the message from Department of Interior officials who fought back yesterday against automatic federal spending cuts that will kick in Friday unless Congress and the President figure out some way around sequestration.

“People who visit parks need transportation, places to stay, and meals to eat—all of which support businesses and provide jobs in local communities,” said outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Added National Parks Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, “The national parks return more than $10 for every $1 the American taxpayer invests in the National Park Service; that makes good stewardship sense and good business sense.”

The pair did not mention the possibility of closing parks. Rather, they talked about reduced operations, shorter seasons, shuttered campgrounds and closed trails.

The New York Times reports that the 5 percent cuts required of each park is worse than it sounds because the sequester is hitting in the middle of the fiscal year, in effect forcing the parks to cut twice that amount in order to reach their annual goal. If the cuts go into effect, NPS could furlough thousands of employees for weeks starting April 1.

The pain has already begun. The Times reports that at Yosemite, contracts for plowing Tioga and Glacier Point roads have been cancelled, delaying the opening of certain parts of the park. The same goes for Glacier National Park's famed Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The annual NPS report compiled by Michigan State University shows that 279 million people visited national parks in 2011. That number rose to 282.8 million in 2012.

Parks tourism is huge in California. National parks visitors spent $1.2 billion in the state in 2011—far more than they did in any other state and almost a half billion more than they shelled out in second-place destination Washington, D.C.

That year, 2011, 3.9 million people came to Yosemite and spent $379 million. Subtract labor and operations costs, and they pumped $251 million into the California economy. Closer to home, Pinnacles National Monument—since promoted to a national park—drew 393,000 visitors who spent a grand total of $8.4 million.

Stay tuned to see what happens to our national parks.

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