Recently, my family and I took a trip into downtown Washington, D.C., where we had a great experience visiting the Washington Monument. It had been at least twenty years since I last rode the elevator to the top, and it was the first time I brought my children to take in the amazing view. It was a bright and sunny summer afternoon, with temperatures in the low 90s. We were incredibly grateful for the NPS reservation system, which meant we only had a fifteen-minute wait in the heat before entering the Monument. This was a major improvement over the snaking lines and hours wait I remember from the visits of my childhood. It made our trip significantly more enjoyable.
Of course, as much as we loved our visit, we encountered others who were less pleased. Some visitors were unaware of the reservation system and expressed their annoyance to Ranger Liz, who remained the consummate professional in the face of their displeasure.
Visitation at many national parks is extremely high (see stories like this one out of Yosemite, where some visitors waited up to five hours to enter the park over the July 4th weekend). Our national parks are understaffed and overcrowded. While I found the reservation system helpful on my visit, these systems are not a total or perfect solution. But they are a step in the right direction, and some of the more heavily visited national parks such as Acadia, Yosemite, and Zion, have implemented a visitor management system.
The mission of the National Park Service is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” As more and more people visit our incredible national parks, it becomes more and more difficult to balance conserving these special places while “providing for the enjoyment” of visitors and leaving the parks “unimpaired” for the future.
Our national parks must manage the dual mission of conservation and public enjoyment, which can be contradictory. As park visitation numbers continue to grow, they need our support in finding ways to achieve both. And a key part of the solution is additional funding for our National Park System.
Between FY 2011 and FY 2022, the NPS lost almost 19 percent of its operating staffing capacity while over 30 park units and other authorized sites were added to the system, and annual visitation grew by more than 30 million.
The National Park Service needs permanent funding increases to support park operations and ensure that fixed costs are addressed. In addition, more funding is needed to build up NPS staff capacity so parks can address the needs and impacts that increased visitation has on both the visitor experience and safety and protection of park resources.
The Coalition is working hard to urge Congressional representatives to pass a Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) appropriations bill that does not cut funding for public lands. And in the short term, if Congress cannot agree on a FY24 funding bill,, it is critical that they pass a continuing resolution in the next few days to keep our government operational. We must remind Congress of the devastation caused during the last shutdown, and the negative impacts to employees, visitors, gateway communities, and park resources. Our National Park System deserves better.