There is a place to start coming together on the federal budget, and Sen. Patty Murray is well-suited to lead the way as chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee and a leader in the current, difficult budget negotiations. Shutting down the government — and our national parks — is simply not a reasonable choice.
In addition to disrupting long-planned vacations, relocating weddings, and spoiling other events, communities surrounding Olympic National Park lost nearly $4 million in visitor spending during the shutdown. Businesses surrounding Mount Rainier lost up to $1 million. But the shutdown was part of a long-term trend of broken budgeting harming national parks and threatening the visitor experience and the economic health of surrounding communities.
Our national parks offer an instructive lesson about why budget brinksmanship and the indiscriminate across-the-board sequester cuts demand a new approach. Sen. Murray is choosing the right fight in seeking a compromise that will end this damaging policy.
While the entrances to our national parks have been reopened, there are still “closed” signs on some campgrounds, visitor centers and historic structures and nearly 2,000 fewer rangers to help visitors due to sequestration. The ever-shrinking budget — down 13 percent since 2010 just to operate our national parks — is shortsighted and unsustainable.
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Studies show that our national parks generate a $10 return for every $1 invested. National parks in Washington state alone support more than 3,800 jobs and produce upwards of $260 million in economic activity, according to 2011 reports.
It’s time to reinvest in our heritage. Nine in 10 voters — Republican, Democrat and Independent — do not want national park funding cut. Sen. Murray has reflected this bipartisan support with a budget that allows room for investing in national parks, which enjoy broad support, are economically important and are being harmed by the sequester.
Time will tell if the budget conferees also take this common ground into consideration and find the compromise necessary to end the damaging sequester.
Rob Smith is the Northwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.