If heading to Valley Forge National Historic Park is on your to-do list this summer, you might need to double check the schedule. Due to sequestration, parks like Valley Forge may have staffing and hours on the "chopping block."
“Every park in the system would be affected, including treasured places like Gettysburg, Independence Hall and Valley Forge, and the local economies that depend on visitor spending would also suffer,” said Cinda Waldbuesser, senior Pennsylvania program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association in a recent release. “National parks are economic drivers for local communities. Over the last two years, Pennsylvania’s national parks have welcomed more than eight million visitors, generating $325,000,000 in economic benefits.”
During a Monday press conference, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar agreed.
“People who visit parks need transportation, meals to eat,” he said. “[Parks] help to support business and provide jobs in local communities. Reduced services would have a direct impact on local communities’ businesses which depend on income from visitors.”
Salazar said the national parks system fears “looming sequester” cuts.
“This is a self-inflicted wound to our economy, and to middle-class families,” he said. “Only Congress can stop this.”
Throughout the nation, Salazar said that parks will be forced to reduce hours and services, not just at national parks but at all facilities operated by the Department of the Interior.
Valley Forge’s business manager, Patrick Madden, said he was not “at liberty to talk about sequester cuts at this point.” He directed press, as instructed, to speak with Director of National Park Services Jonathan Jarvis.
“The National Parks Service is a bureau run for the people,” said Jarvis. “We are being asked to take a full year of cuts in the second-half of our year.”
Jarvis explained that absorbing a five-percent reduction in funding will actually feel like a 10-percent change due to the shortened time frame. With the fiscal year half over, such changes will have to happen at a rapid pace.
“March is when we open parks that we usually run in the summer,” said Jarvis. “Places like Independence Hall will have to cut half of its interactive programs. Gettysburg, with its 150th anniversary this year, will have reduced programs, and 2,400 kids will not be able to participate in its programs.”
While many think sequestration was “not to happen,” Jarvis reminded the public that its effects are already being shown.
“These impacts are real,” he said. “Contracts [for summer/seasonal hires] come into place on March 1. We’ve already implemented sequester by not allowing those contracts to go forward.”
The parks system said it will strive not to impact its full-time employees with sequestration reductions in funding.
“Anyone that might be furloughed would get a 30-day notice,” said Salazar. “Thousands of employees will have to be furloughed, some for long periods of time. Decisions will be made this week and next that have a real impact on people.”
The department feels the greatest impact will be on the seasonal employee hires.
“I came in on Jan. 20, 2009, with the president, and we have focused on creating opportunities for young people to work in our parks, all over this country,” said Salazar. “In 2012, we had 22,000 youth ages 15 to 25, many being seasonal. We’re not going to be able to do that anymore if we can’t get through this sequester.”
Jarvis explained parks’ budgets are made up of 85 to 90 percent of “fixed costs.”
“You have to pay employees, you have to put gas in your vehicles, cover search and rescue operations,” he said. “That last bit of budget you can make decisions about each year, and that even depends on the weather. Maybe you need trees and branches picked up or snow plowed, that is a big percent of the park’s operating budget [front-line visitor services].”
With very little that can be adjusted without major impact, the parks system has not yet decided on exact changes.
Congress has until midnight Thursday to make a decision on sequester.