Summer 2006 U.S. National Park Report: Visitor Safety, Resources, Services Now 'Seriously Compromised' as a Result of Cuts
37-Park Review by Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) Finds
Nearly All Parks Suffer From Reduced Law Enforcement, Emergency Response
Personnel; No Longer Able to 'Hide' Service and Maintenance From Public
WASHINGTON, June 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Visiting a national park this summer? If so, you should expect reduced law enforcement protection, longer emergency response times, fewer lifeguards, scaled back water and trail safety patrols, dirtier campgrounds and other visibly deteriorating facilities and resources, according to a major new report based on a 37-park review by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR), an organization of more than 515 former NPS employees with an accumulated 15,000 years of national park experience. Entitled "Reality Check: What Visitors to America's National Parks Will Experience During Summer 2006," the CNPSR report concludes: "Despite 'happy talk' assurances from political appointees at the Department of the Interior and National Park Service, all is not well this summer in America's national parks. A Coalition of National Park Service Retirees analysis of the status of 37 national parks ... finds widespread evidence of major problems that will be evident this summer -- including decreased safety for visitors, longer emergency response times, endangerment of protected resources, and dirtier and less well-maintained parks -- and that the problems will only grow worse in the coming years." Examples in the CNPSR report of the "seriously comprised" protection of U.S. national park visitors and resources include the following: Apostle Islands NL -- no proactive law enforcement or resource protection operations, with safety radio dispatch only available for limited hours per day/five days per week; Gettysburg NMP -- ranger patrols cut 25 percent, with reduced law enforcement coverage creating a potential threat to visitors and historic resources; Denali NP -- cuts in law enforcement and emergency response personnel, even though ambulance runs are up 38 percent in one year due to new visitation patterns, little or no back country patrols being performed; Fort Smith NHS -- park can no longer afford a law enforcement ranger, with the superintendent working the front desk in the visitor center during the winter to save money for seasonal employees; Glen Canyon NRA -- reduced lake boat patrols, backcountry vehicle/San Juan River patrols, delays in emergency response times; Indiana Dunes NL -- cannot patrol remote areas and rangers are reactive only, with rangers unable to mingle with the public or to educate visitors, water safety program has been reduced to one beach and only three lifeguards; and Olympic NP -- longer law enforcement response times to visitor assistance calls, with an increased potential for more crimes due to lack of deterrence. Bill Wade, the former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park and chair of the Coalition's Executive Council, said: "The budget crisis in our parks is real and it will be felt keenly by park visitors this summer. Nearly all surveyed parks will have fewer law enforcement rangers on the job this summer to protect park visitors and park resources. Our intention here is not to be alarmist, but to ensure that American citizens and lawmakers know the facts: Forget about cutting the flesh or any 'fat,' we are now cutting deeply into the sinews and bones of our national parks. Congressional budget increases of recent years have been welcome, but these modest hikes have only succeeded in bringing some parks out of the depths of the financial abyss ... and back to its brink. The sad fact is that these budget add-ons are the proverbial drop in the bucket of at least $600 million in operations funding deficits and an enormous maintenance backlog of up to $7 billion." Bill Supernaugh, the former Superintendent of Badlands National Park and a member of the CNPSR Executive Council, said: "It is important to understand that there is more to the problems this summer in national parks than a higher level of risk posed to visitors and resources. Effectively, there is no meaningful preventative maintenance program today in the NPS because very few parks now have the resources to carry out such a program. Unfortunately, today's preventative maintenance deferral turns into tomorrow's increase in the already multi-billion-dollar NPS maintenance backlog. Reduced seasonal employee hiring contributes directly to increased maintenance backlogs, increased resource crimes, and the increased prevalence of the already shameful number of shabby and ill-kept national park sites and facilities." The total group of 37 national parks covered in the CNPSR report fall into two categories: those survey in detailed by the Coalition (17) and those where CNPSR reviewed other information (20). The 17 parks surveyed by the Coalition were the following (alphabetically): Acadia National Park; Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; Biscayne National Park; Blue Ridge Parkway; Denali National Park; Fort Smith National Historic Site; Gettysburg National Military Park; Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; Independence National Historical Park; Lassen Volcanic National Park; Central High School National Historic Site; Olympic National Park; Ozark National Scenic Riverways; Rocky Mountain National Park; Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River; and Redwoods National Park. The 20 national parks in relation to which CNPSR reviewed other budget- related information were as follows (alphabetically): Antietam National Battlefield; Arkansas Post National Memorial; Bryce Canyon National Park; Big Bend National Park; Canyonlands National Park; Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site; Ford's Theatre National Historic Site; Fort Sumter National Monument; Glacier National Park; Grand Canyon National Park; Grand Teton National Park; Harpers Ferry National Historical Park; Hot Springs National Park; Lake Mead National Recreation Area; Shenandoah National Park; Statue of Liberty National Monument; Valley Forge National Historical Park; Yellowstone National Park; Yosemite National Park; and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. OTHER KEY FINDINGS In addition to the findings about extensive law enforcement and other emergency response personnel cuts, the CNPSR report also found: * Visitors to parks this summer will see evidence of deteriorating park operations resulting from reduced preventative maintenance, in terms of scheduled custodial checks, roadside litter pickup, and grounds and buildings maintenance. For example: Fort Smith NHS -- can not afford to pay for utilities to open a building for use by a park partner; Gettysburg NMP -- postponing the painting of historic structures, roof replacement, cannon carriage repairs; Acadia NP -- less litter patrol, tree trimming, road sweeping and no repair of vehicles, also closure of trail-side restrooms during winter; Apostle Islands NL -- reduced care of buildings and ground maintenance, with only 10 percent of annual deferred trail work completed, cuts to core staff making it impossible to carry out deferred maintenance; Denali NP -- unable to carry out a deferred maintenance program, routine inspections reduced, cleaning and flushing of sewer lines cut; Glacier NP -- three campgrounds will no longer have potable water or trash service; and Shenandoah NP -- shuttering of a visitor center and the end to interpretive nature programs in a major section of the park, forcing visitors to drive 50 miles for such services. * Widespread cuts are putting national parks in an almost purely "reactive" posture, falling far short of the law and Congressional intent to protect the resources for future generations. Examples here include: Biscayne NP -- entire protection staff on duty on heavy use weekends eliminating resource monitoring patrols for 50 percent of the week, also maintenance work limited resulting in documented decrease in visitor satisfaction rates; and Upper Delaware SRR -- 50 percent cut in maintenance programs, no preventative maintenance on historic bridge, 70 percent reduction in building maintenance and 90 percent reduction in orchard management. * The national park maintenance backlog has increased -- rather than being reduced, as promised. A prime example: Gettysburg NMP -- where the amount of needed maintenance left undone jumped from $36.4 million in 2001 to $49.7 million in 2006. * National park budget shifts are taking place largely at the expense of leaving key staff positions unfilled. For example: Gettysburg NMP -- down four permanent positions since FY 04 and off 13 since FY 01 (including exhibit specialists and preservation workers); Olympic NP -- currently down about 25 positions from three years ago; Yosemite NP -- where 45 seasonal rangers once gave presentations talks to visitors, there now are only eight doing so; Ozark NSR -- 11 positions have been lapsed since FY 02 (13 percent of workforce) including three permanent positions lost since FY 04, with critical needs covering the full operational spectrum, most in maintenance and law enforcement; and Indiana Dunes NL -- lost three permanent and seven term custodial positions, five of which are critical ranging from bio-technician to law enforcement ranger; and Denali NP -- 16 lapsed positions in FY 06, with nine deemed critical ranging from Chief of Interpretation to Safety Officer. For full report findings go to http://www.npsretirees.org on the Web. The CNPSR report is being released in the wake of the National Park Service mounting a major "National Parks: The Place to be for Family Fun in 2006" promotion campaign that makes no reference to budget-related problems in terms of visitor safety, reduced emergency response capabilities, service cuts, at-risk natural resources, and crumbling facilities. ABOUT THE COALITION The more than 515 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service (NPS) with a combined 15,000 years of stewardship of America's most precious natural and cultural resources. In their personal lives, CNPSR members reflect the broad spectrum of political affiliations. CNPSR members have served their country well, and their credibility and integrity in speaking out on national park issues should not go ignored. The Coalition counts among its members five former directors or deputy directors of the National Park Service; 24 former regional directors or deputy regional directors; 31 former associate or assistant directors at the national or regional office level; 68 former division chiefs at the national or regional office level; and 128 former park superintendents or assistant superintendents. For more information, visit the CNPSR Web site at http://www.npsretirees.org.
SOURCE Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Washington, D.C.
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