August 22nd, 2012 by

A scene from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina. Credit: Soil Science/Flickr

Federal agencies are bracing themselves for a funding crisis with budget sequestration cuts looming if Congress fails to create a plan to reduce the federal deficit. To boost funding and support, could online media be a part of the solution?

The Obama administration just announced a makeover to www.recreation.gov, the interagency website to get people to explore America’s public places. The new design provides users with a more interactive experience, where they can watch videos, plan trips and even make online reservations for their upcoming adventures. It comes as part of a multi-year effort to boost the economy through outdoor recreation and travel. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack hopes the new site will help boost the estimated $646 billion that tourism and recreation already contribute to the U.S. economy. While this figure is good news for the economy, the National Park Service is still struggling to operate on a tight budget.

Soldiers in Fredericksburg after the battle of Spotsylvania, 1864. Credit: expertinfantry/Flickr

The National Park Service makes up only one-fourteenth of one percent of the federal budget. Cuts of up to 10 percent could be made across-the-board if there is a budget sequestration — even though cutting 10 percent of one-fourteenth of one percent won’t make a dent in the deficit. Park managers are highly concerned about the effect that budget sequestration could have on jobs and the ability for parks to stay open and operating. Fixed operating costs that rely on federal funds represent a high portion of park budgets like for Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and Blue Ridge Parkway. These parks could really suffer if funding is cut by 10 percent. Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA), tells The Washington Post that federal funding is the number one threat to national parks, and this means that policymakers are going to have to face some tough decisions.

In a recent poll commissioned by the NPCA and the National Park Hospitality Association, voters said they want the government to ensure protection of our national parks through federal funding. Voters also expressed concern about funding shortages negatively affecting national parks’ visitor experiences. According to the poll, parks continue to receive bipartisan support, which hopefully carries over to Congress. You can urge Congress to reach a budget deal that ensures protection of our national parks by signing onto NPCA’s letter. It would be sad to see any of our national parks close, but if Congress doesn’t listen to what voters are saying, it may become a reality.