WASHINGTON – The quality of the National Park Service is on the decline,according to a survey released Thursday.
Conducted by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees,the 37-park survey said visitors could expect reduced law enforcement,longer emergency response times,fewer safety patrols and dirtier campgrounds.
There are 390 national parks,monuments and historic sites.
Bill Wade,the group's executive chairman,said,“The budget crisis in our national parks is real and will be felt by visitors this summer.”
“Forget about cutting the flesh and fat,” he said. “We are now cutting deep into the muscles and bones in our national parks.”
The group surveyed 17 parks in detail and found that building maintenance is being delayed,potable water is not being provided at campsites that used to have it,some buildings will close and litter will be picked up less often.
David Barna,spokesman for the National Park Service,said that,while the parks have been in better shape in the past,the 280 million forecasted park visitors this year are “hardly going to see an impact in the parks.”
“This is about the third year in a row that we've heard that the sky is falling,” he said. “Like everybody else,we're doing more with less.”
Slimming national park budgets further would make park administrators pursue funds from charitable foundations and commercial entities,said Wade,who is the former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
“All this is going to do is to continue to increase the pressure on superintendents or park service managers to find additional sources of money,” he said. “The more you do that and the more you have to rely on money that is other than is appropriated,the less national that makes the national parks.”
The survey also said that widespread reductions in the amount of seasonal park employees weaken park quality. Barna said the NPS has shifted from hiring several seasonal workers to hiring full-time staff. Nearly 20,000 people work at parks across the country.
“Some of the numbers in their report don't reflect that we've tried to have more full-time employment and less seasonals,” he said.
There were also a record 138,000 volunteers in national parks in 2005,Barna said.
“That has supplemented us and helped us as the budget has gotten tighter,” he said.
Bill Supernaugh,a member of the retirees' group executive council,said increasing funds to national parks would solve the problems cited in the study. He was superintendent at Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
“We know what needs to be done and what should be done both for the park resources and park visitor. It is frustrating when you don't have the dollars stretch as far as they need to go,” he said. “This is a national embarrassment that we shouldn't allow to go on any longer.”