Canton Repository

March 18, 2004

National park services cut

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Some national parks will have to cut services to the public even though the National Park Service as a whole is receiving more funding, according to memos made public Wednesday.

Several groups that released the memos, which originated in the park service, also criticized officials for urging park superintendents to conceal budget cuts from the public.

“Park Service professionals are expected to present information to the public and the media in a manner that closely reflects current administration policy rather than actual needs,” charged Jeff McFarland, executive director of the Association of National Park Rangers.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, expressed surprise that cuts are being contemplated while funding has increased.

“They’re going to have more money than they did last year,” said Regula, a member of a House appropriations subcommittee that helps shape funding for the national park system. “Why would you not be able to at least maintain the same level of services ... if you get the same amount of money? I don’t get it.”

A Feb. 20 memo to superintendents who run parks in the northeast United States said the majority of those parks “are beginning this fiscal year with fewer operating dollars than” last year.

Possible cuts include closing visitor centers on federal holidays, eliminating lifeguards at certain beaches and eliminating ranger tours, the memo said.

Another memo, circulated to Midwest park superintendents March 1, warned that “this is a time of fiscal constraint that rivals any within our collective memories.”

Individual park superintendents have wide latitude to rearrange spending and make cuts as they see fit.

Budgets for the parks have increased each year, said David Barna, a spokesman for the park service in Washington, D.C. There’s still a need for cuts because forest fires, damage from a hurricane and increased spending on security at national monuments have absorbed hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget, he said.

Critics said a memo to park superintendents in northeast states urged them to mislead the public about cuts in service.

The memo, reportedly written by Chrysandra Walter, deputy regional director in the northeast region, suggested that superintendents avoid using the word “cut” when describing reductions in service.

“If you are personally pressed by the media in an interview, we all agreed to use the terminology of service level adjustment due to fiscal restraints as a means of describing what actions we are taking,” the memo said.

The northeast region takes in states from Virginia to Maine. Ohio is in the Midwest region.

Barna defended the guidance.

“I think it’s to keep the best face on the parks that we can,” he said. “Times are tough and I don’t see it so much as misleading people as making sure they still feel welcome.”

President Bush has proposed spending $1.687 billion on park operations next year, up almost 5 percent from the current $1.609 billion budget.