By Sarah Plummer
A report released Monday by the National Park Service reveals that mandatory budget cuts under sequestration if Congress fails to act before the March 1 deadline would greatly affect local communities and businesses that depend on the income generated from visitors to national parks.
According to the National Park Service, if these budget cuts are made, the public should expect reduced hours and services, not only at America’s 398 national parks, but also at the 561 national wildlife refuges and over 268 public land units.
Visitors to national parks across the United States generated $30.1 billion in economic activity as nearly 279 million individuals visited national parks and supported 252,000 jobs in 2011, according to the report.
From the number of guests who checked in at visitor centers across southern West Virginia, it is evident this area receives some foot traffic.
New River Gorge National River received 1,128,195 registered visitors in 2012.
In 2012, 115,283 individuals registered as visitors at Gauley River National Park. Those numbers have steadily increased since 107,223 visitors were reported in 2010. And nearly 40,000 visited Bluestone in 2012.
According to the report, 63 percent of visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food and beverage service and 17 percent of visitor spending goes to recreation and entertainment. Eleven percent of what visitors spend goes to other retail items, 7 percent to transportation and fuel and 2 percent to wholesale and manufacturing.
“Places like the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty take our breath away and inspire us with their beauty and history, but our national parks also serve as anchors for our nation’s economy,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “People who visit parks need transportation, places to stay, and meals to eat — all of which support businesses and provide jobs in local communities.”
“Everyone knows that national parks are great places to visit that offer inspiring educational experiences, unparalleled outdoor recreation, and a whole lot of fun,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “But what this report shows is that America’s national parks are also critical economic engines, not only for our neighbors in gateway communities, but for our entire country. 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.”
Salazar and Jarvis warned that mandatory budget cuts under sequestration will result in reduced hours of operation for visitor centers, shorter seasons and possibly closing campgrounds, hiking trails and other recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, staff and resources.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org