Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Parks, Budget Cuts, and the Economy

The across-the-board federal budget cuts (the so-called "sequestration") is set to take place in just a few days. Tracie Cone, of the Associated Press, recently reported on how these cuts are likely to impact the National Parks, e.g., closed sections, less presentations for school children, and less frequent trash pickup.  ("National parks prepare to limit attractions if budget cuts take effect," Associated Press, February 23, 2013, found in the Cumberland Times-News)

This is interesting for two reasons. First, because it shows the stark contrast between how we are fighting our current economic doldrums and how we fought the depression of the 1930s. And second, because it has to make one wonder why we would cut back on something that has an economic benefit higher than its cost.

During the Great Depression, the New Deal work programs, especially the CCC & WPA, worked on thousands of national, state, county, and municipal parks. For example, the CCC & WPA played a major role in the early creation/development of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park in the United States.

The National Park Service has a budget of about 3 billion dollars. And, of course, states, counties, and municipalities have their own budgets for their own parks. But it was recently reported that "44 percent of us make outdoor recreation a priority, adding up to an annual economic impact of $646 billion, according to a recent report by the Outdoor Industry Association" (see article here). And you can find numerous examples of how parks have positive economic effects on the areas that surround them (see, e.g., here). The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce (western Maryland) heavily emphasizes nearby forests & parks as attractions--and most of these forests & parks were created, developed, and maintained by the CCC (see here).

So, during the Great Depression we hired the unemployed into public works programs, they created or improved thousands of parks, and the parks have proven to be engines of economic growth, due to Americans' love of the outdoors. Today, our politicians turn their noses up at the unemployed, let their skills & dreams fall to pieces, and prepare to cut the budget of the National Park System which, when adjusted for inflation, is already 15% lower than it was ten years ago. And, no doubt, many state, county, and municipal "leaders" are doing the same.  

What an amazing contrast.  Are you scratching your head yet or, like me, are you banging your head against the wall?


(Image above is a WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Emoticon courtesy of www.freesmileys.org)

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