OUR OPINION: Sequester toll takes hold in national parks

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippians regularly traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway soon will feel the effects of cuts required by the federal budget sequester, which requires a 5 percent spending reduction between March 1 and Sept. 30 in all national parks.
Some of the service cuts affect basic travel convenience like reductions in the days some restroom stops are open – comfort stations, as the National Park Service designates them.
The sequester resulting from the failure of Congress and President Obama to agree on and enact other spending cuts for deficit reduction, requires the Natchez Trace to lop off $570,000 from its $11.393 million 2013 budget, dropping available funds to $10.823 million.
The Natchez Trace cuts were announced Thursday in a release from Acting Superintendent Dale C. Wilkerson.
The parkway, used by millions of travelers, commuters and tourists every year, will see reductions in visitor center hours at some locations:
• Meriwether Lewis Visitor Center (TN, mile post 386): Operating hours will be reduced from five days/week full time to two days/week full time (Saturday/Sunday) and three days/week part time (Wednesday-Friday).
• Colbert Ferry Visitor Center (AL, MP 328): Closed for the 2013 season.
• Ridgeland Visitor Center (MS, MP 102): Operating hours will be reduced from 5 days/week to 2 days/week (Friday/Saturday).
• Rocky Springs Visitor Center (MS, MP 55): Closed for the 2013 season.
• Mount Locust Historic Site (MS, MP 15): Operating hours remain unchanged; open seven days/week but with minimum staffing on four of those days.
Similar reductions have been made at Vicksburg National Military Park, and cuts soon are expected to be announced by Shiloh National Military Park.
Similarly, facilities reductions and road openings, plus campsite availability will be reduced in Great Smokey Mountains National Park, a popular destination for Northeast Mississippians.
The national parks unfortunately have been targeted for steadily declining funding by Congress, and this year’s original $2.9 billion national budget is calculated at 15 percent less than a decade ago.
The parks are our national treasure, yet they receive one-fourteenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.
Economic studies show spending by an estimated 280 million people who visit park units each year supports 247,000 jobs in neighboring communities and generates $31 billion for local economies.
The sequester is arbitrary; its mandates should be revisited and revised.