National parks short on funds despite Bush’s claims

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    By David Butler

    Many national parks have less money to run business this year than they did last year despite the Bush administration”s claim — “more funds per employee, per acre and per visitor than any time in the history of the National Park Service.”

    Funding for national parks comes from money allocated by Congress each year, as well as recreational funds collected at the gate from visitors.

    Paul Henderson, park spokesman for the National Parks Service office in southeastern Utah, explained where and how these funds are used.

    “Our base operations are run from based funding that comes from Congress,” he said. “The recreation fees that we retain here are used for maintenance projects such as fixing roads, fixing buildings and that kind of thing … It”s not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing, but tax revenues pay for the construction.”

    Henderson said the long and short of it is that cuts are in the eye of the beholder.

    Each year the president presents a budget to Congress, which includes base funding for national parks. Henderson said there were increases in that budget from 2003 for all four of the national parks in his area.

    “However, a lot happened after the budget was passed,” he said. “Every program in the government was cut by a certain percentage to balance the books.”

    There was also an across-the-board cut in the Department of the Interior, which the National Park Services falls under, in order to balance the books.

    The money then goes to the headquarters for the National Park Services and then to the regional office in Denver.

    “By the time the money was actually allocated to the park, yes, it was less in 2004 than it was in 2003,” Henderson said. “We had fewer dollars this year than we had last year.”

    These cuts in the amount of money forced changes in the park.

    “We”ve shortened the amount of time seasonal employees work,” Henderson said. “We use volunteers. We may only clean campgrounds once or twice a week. We haven”t closed anything, but we are relying more on volunteers to get stuff done.”

    Henderson feels they are not able to offer the same quality service they have been able to in the past.

    “We didn”t do everything we wanted to do this year, but I”m not sure what we will do in 2005 if we get the same situation,” he said.

    Kit Mullen, superintendent for the Timpanogos Cave National Monument, said that their particular problem is due to inflation.

    “[The allocated money] is supposed to cover your basic operations,” she said. “This is your ability to pay your electric bill and provide clean restrooms and those kind of things. Our base budget increases a little bit each year, but isn”t growing at the rate of inflation.”

    Mullen compared their problem to trying to raise a family without ever getting a raise despite a gradual increase in cost of living. She said she feels this is what many national parks and monuments are dealing with.

    Utah State Parks are also feeling the strain caused by economic cuts and recession.

    Stephen Ogilvie, finance manager for Utah State Parks, said they have been experiencing a cut in funding since 2001. He said although they are not financially connected to the National Park Services, they are experiencing similar problems.

    “We are getting hit as hard because a lot of our funding comes from a general place,” he said. “$1.8 million hard. That”s a substantial amount of money.”

    The National Park Service is trying to implement plans, such as reducing traveling costs in the agency, to provide additional funds to places that need them.

    Mullen feels that the issue has been raised and Congress is trying to address it.

    “I”ve talked to a lot of congressmen over my career, and I have never heard any of them say they didn”t care about national parks,” she said. “They know how important it is to the American people.”

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