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January 29, 2015

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Protect Lake Mead and the legacy of the national parks

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After spending 34 years of my career working for the Department of the Interior, most of which was with the National Park Service, I am no stranger to the power and beauty of our most special places. In my last Park Service position, I served as Superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area from 1987 until 2000. In managing Lake Mead, one of the most visited sites in the National Park System, I was in charge of managing a 1.5 million-acre space – on an ever-decreasing, shoestring budget. With this experience under my national park ranger hat, it disturbs me in the most personal way to know our National Park Service is facing serious across-the-board cuts that, if implemented, will compromise that great experience visitors have come to expect, as well as many of the basic needs that one deserves to experience in when visiting places known as one of our country’s “best ideas.”

At 1/14th of one percent of the federal budget, cutting National Park Service budgets will not solve our deficit problems, but has the power to severely harm local economies, in particular small businesses, that depend on healthy parks and strong park attendance.

Investing in our national parks is the best idea that our country can make. My alma mater, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, is America's fifth most visited national park unit with more than 7 million visits a year. An economic model developed for the Clark County area in the 2010 Southern Nevada Visitor Use Monitoring Survey estimated that Lake Mead NRA contributes $406 million in sales for local businesses, 3,724 full and part-time jobs, and $255 million in value added, which includes employee compensation and proprietary income, profits and rent associated with local businesses, and indirect business taxes and sales taxes. And on a larger scale, the National Park Service reports that every dollar invested in park operations generates about $10, and every two Park Service jobs yields one outside the park service.

Our nation’s treasures are entrusted to the National Park Service for preservation. Great Basin National Park with the darkest night skies in the continental United States; the sheer expanse and mass of the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the USS Arizona, and most iconic monuments and places of jaw-dropping beauty that define our nation are a part of the National Park System. Upkeep and maintenance on these treasures currently poses a challenge to meet unique needs with limited budgets.

America’s national parks already suffer from an annual operations shortfall of $500 million to $600 million. Parks are falling into disrepair and are more vulnerable than ever to inappropriate development within park boundaries. Another deep cut of 8 to 10 percent across the National Park Service will mean even fewer rangers, less maintenance and almost certainly park closures. Maintenance cuts have the ability to impact services even as seemingly minor as clean restrooms when visiting a national park. I’m sure most can attest to unfavorable experiences in public facilities, and how they have the ability to make a 180-degree change in your regard for even the most enjoyable spaces. Given the negative consequences this could have for visitors and local businesses nationwide, Congress needs to find a more balanced solution to our deficit problem.

As the National Park Service looks to its centennial in 2016, I call upon Congress and the administration to ensure that our national parks are protected and funded for the continued enjoyment of our generation, and our children and grandchildren to come. Funding our national parks will help protect the positive visitor experience that I helped create while working with our National Park Service, and will protect the continued successful tourism economy in Southern Nevada, throughout the state, and far beyond. Our national parks are a legacy worth preserving and fully supporting them is without question the right thing to do.

Alan O’Neill served as superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area from 1987 to 2000 and helped found the Outside Las Vegas Foundation, where he served as executive director until 2010.

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  1. The national parks costs so little and provide excellent value for the money. These important assets deserve our support.

  2. The truth is everything the Federal government does and provides has to be up for discussion to cut and cull. Everything. Nothing is exempt just because a 34 year National Park Service Ranger says so. It doesn't work that way. Not with our Federal government and its past years of out of control spending and predictions, if left unchecked, of a future as far as the eye can see of more of the same. I suggest that the powers that be in the DOI come up with a prioritized wish list of those services that it would like to continue after they are cut/culled. If and when the debt/deficit situation improves, the DOI request that these are funded again.


  3. PS: Unless the funds generated go directly to offset/defray the taxpayers' money to fund the National Park Service operations, they should not be used as an argument in the budget justification.


  4. The national parks I have visited appear way over developed. Actually they appear to be public jobs programs. It's as if park personnel try to outdo mother nature. The National Park Service needs to adopt a culture which maintains a minium footprint. And that would coincide well will the extreme need for all federal departments to scale back.

    Our founding fathers never intended government to employ millions of employees. Nor do I want that from My government.

  5. Our nation's public and national parks deserve our support. When we look at the balance sheet of the return for each taxpayer dollar invested, it is a glorious bargain. It is mutually important that our open spaces, that many Americans, including visitors from all around the world come to visit, tour, or camp at, continue to be protected for present and future generations to enjoy.

    The Park Service has done a fabulous job utilizing volunteer organizations in helping maintain and keep our parks viable. Thanks to all who love our national treasures and support them!

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. I find it amazing that we're having a discussion about cutting Anything while Freeloading profitable Corporations (25%) pay Nothing in Taxes. Oil Corporations, Wall Street Banks and much of the Defense and Medical industry is loading up at the Public Through. We do have a Revenue And Spending Problem. However the Spending is for Corporations and Billionaires who do little for American Prosperity that they would not otherwise do for the Profit Motive, and Defense - Desperate to keep our nation and war and their profits going.
    Yet all of these Industries have the Low Information Voters convinced that we must cut Student Aid, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Education, Public Works (Highways,Bridges,Tunnels,School Buildings,Trains,Electrical Grid Structures, Medical Research, and the list goes on) so they will be immune from ANY CUT from their Sacred Cow.

  7. I wish these bureaucrats and former bureaucrats felt this strongly about protecting jobs and ensuring future entrepreneurs will be able to create jobs for next generations to come.