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Parks hit hard by budget cuts.

A major shortfall in the National Park Service budget is forcing spending cuts throughout the park system. Across the country, parks are closing campgrounds, slashing staff and visitor services, and reducing maintenance and conservation efforts. "The effect on the parks and on Park Service morale has been devastating," said NPCA President Paul Pritchard.

The Bush Administration told Congress that $1.03 billion was needed for operation of the National Park System in 1993. But in the final budget Congress approved for the parks this fall, it allotted only $984 million, a reduction of $48 million.

"It is very rare. No time recently has that happened," said Park Service spokeswoman Elaine Sevy. "It's usually a minimal increase."

On paper, the sum is $39 million more than the parks received last year. But it is not enough to provide last year's services and programs. One problem is that, like other federal employees, NPS staff are receiving a 4-percent cost-of-living raise this year. The administration requested and Congress provided only half the cost of the raise.

Inflation is also taking a toll on each park. "If you look at the raw figures, we actually had a $5,200 increase," said Noel Poe, superintendent at Arches National Park in Utah, "but if you look at the fixed costs that have increased and compare it to what we need to have to fund last year's programs, we're about $119,000 short ... It's just the rising cost of doing business, and the appropriations are not keeping up with that."

Tight economic times are not the only problem, however. While the operations budget was cut $48 million, Congress gave NPS $92 million more for construction projects than it had requested. The construction budget has been criticized before as a spot where congressional "pork barrel" projects are added. "In a time of limited available funds, the basic needs of the parks have got to come first," Pritchard said.

While NPCA has worked to publicize and solve existing problems in the parks, the cuts are likely to worsen them. There is already a $2.2-billion backlog of Park Service maintenance needs. The Interior Department's inspector general has found "serious and irreversible damage" to parks as a result of environmental problems that NPS has not had monitoring programs to detect or funds to address. The backlog of such problems is estimated at $477 million. The National Research Council called last year for drastic improvement of the underfunded Park Service science program, a step NPCA has urged for years.

The cuts are "a horrible blow," said Roger Rudolph of Olympic National Park in Washington. "We felt we were substandard even before we had to take a $411,000 cut." All but two of Olympic's 16 campgrounds will be open only from July 1 to Labor Day. The park has cut ranger patrols and interpretive services and reduced funding for an air- and water-quality study. It has also cut back on maintenance of its 600 miles of trails. "When you stop maintaining something, it's a short-term gain but a long-term deficit," Rudolph said.

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia has closed one campground for the year and delayed opening another. Only 75 seasonal employees will be hired, compared to 85 last year and 140 in 1987. Twelve staff positions were already open because the park could not afford to fill them; this year there will be 18 more. The shortfall will also increase the park's $7-million maintenance backlog and $2.5-million equipment replacement backlog.

The budget cuts have been made more difficult by pressure on the parks to reduce visitor services as little as possible. Shenandoah first planned to save money by closing portions of the park's Skyline Drive for six months. But locafly there was fear the move would affect tourism revenues, and Virginia's members of Congress demanded that NPS cancel the plans.

Tight budgets have also affected Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. But in December, the exiting secretary of the Interior, Manuel Lujan, Jr., ordered a controversial $42,000 expansion of the park's horse stables. The new Interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, halted the project in early February.

The expansion had last been proposed in 1991. Opponents charged it was sought primarily to benefit prominent Washingtonians, such as the family of then-Vice President Dan Quayle, who rode the park's horses on weekends. Congress amended the NPS 1992 budget to forbid any expenditures on the project. At the time, Interior said it would not proceed without a review of the project. No such review appears to have been undertaken, however, before Lujan's order was issued.

"There is serious question whether Manassas needs an equestrian program at all," Pritchard wrote to Lujan. "This activity siphons off more than $50,000 a year." The three existing stables conflict with the goal of restoring the site and the rest of Manassas to its appearance at the time of the Civil War. NPCA is urging that the park's equestrian program be ended and that the funds it requires be used for other park needs.

Appearing on NBC's Today show February 9, Babbitt cited the stables expansion project as an example of government waste and said, "That one's going tomorrow." On his orders, the Park Service stopped construction and reversed the work it had completed.
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Title Annotation:National Park Service budget
Publication:National Parks
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Oversight.
Next Article:Babbitt, Browner take Interior, EPA posts.

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