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Shenandoah National Park: Underfunded, under threat

As Congress approaches another deadline on the federal budget, a new Environment Virginia analysis, entitled Death by a Thousand Cuts, exposes the challenges facing Virginia’s most-visited park, Shenandoah National Park, as a result of mounting funding cuts to the national park service.

Skyline drive, Shenandoah national park“At Shenandoah National Park there was a budget reduction of $625,000 this year, and critical programs like the Preventative Search and Rescue Program were canceled for the season,” said Madison Poche, Federal Field Associate with Environment Virginia. “We don’t want a death by a thousand cuts for Shenandoah National Park.”

Parks closures during last fall’s government shutdown capped off the third straight year in which Congress cut funding to the national park service operating budget. Additional cuts from the March 2013 sequester make for a 13 percent reduction in funding for our parks in today’s dollars over this period.

The sequester cuts and the government shutdown were blows to the visiting public and the surrounding communities. With many vacant positions, the staff finds it difficult to maintain the park and provide the same level of service to visitors. For example, with four unfilled positions on the road crew, maintaining hundreds of miles of roads, including Skyline Drive, is challenging.

Death by a Thousand Cuts gives concrete examples of how Virginia’s National Park Services have been affected by the funding cuts.

•       At Shenandoah National Park, a budget reduction of $625,000 meant campgrounds opened between 1 and 4 weeks late, and over 200 interpretive programs have been canceled.

•       At Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, 11 job openings were unfilled, and the site where General Stonewall Jackson died was only opened on weekends.

•       At Prince William National Forest Park, a comfort station within the picnic area was closed due to the lack of maintenance personnel; Chopawamsic Backcountry and Oakridge Campground have been closed for the winter season; and snow-plowing operations will only occur in areas with critical access points during the winter of 2014.

While the budget deal passed in December has the potential for some increase in the parks budget, it is up to Congressional spending committees to decide the actual funding levels this month. With full funding, Shenandoah National Park can hire a staff provide interpretive and safety programs, maintain historic sites, and support local businesses that rely on tourism.

“For twenty years, our business has been operating on Route 33, the road that goes into Shenandoah Park, and we are heavily dependent on park tourism,” said John Silke, owner of The Greene House Shops, an antiques store in Greene County. “When the leaf-seekers didn’t come for just a few weeks this fall, that really hurt our bottom line.”

Shenandoah provides critical habitats for wildlife like the American Black Bear and the big brown bat and ensures clean drinking water for Virginians through containing portions of the headwaters for the Rappahannock, the Shenandoah, and the James Rivers. Visitors to the park have been enjoying opportunities for hiking, bird watching, or just taking in its beauty since 1935.

“We want to thank Congressman Jim Moran for continuing to stand up for places like Shenandoah by ensuring they’re provided the full funding they desperately need during the upcoming budget negotiations,” Poche concluded. “Virginia’s park lovers are counting on it.”

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