I would like to offer a very different perspective on the budget issues in national parks stemming from my experiences working for the Park Service from 1979 through 1986. I realize that is some time ago but it appears that the same tactics are in place today.
I worked in Yellowstone National Park on the road crew and drove heavy trucks, hauling asphalt and other materials. When the energy crisis came the drivers were instructed that there was to be no unnecessary driving. That lasted for 24 hours. The next day we were instructed to load our trucks to the max and drive all day, non-stop. Any employee that did not have a government driver’s license (coveted and somewhat difficult to obtain) was immediately issued one and placed in any vehicle that was not in use and told to drive continuously. Overhead doors on the equipment garage/repair shop were opened all the way and the furnaces turned on full tilt in the summer. There were signs on all light switches that read, “leave lights on.” It became known to us that in response to the energy crisis the energy allotment for Yellowstone Park was to be cut by 25 percent the next year. The theory was that by greatly increasing our energy consumption during that working season the cutbacks would not really have any real effect. It was a ridiculous and dishonest scenario, but it worked.
A few years later I worked in the carpenter shop. Every year they informed us that unless the budget was renewed we would all be sent home. Everything that went wrong was advertised to the general public as a budget issue. When the sewer backed up in the Mammoth Hot Springs campground I was instructed to place a sign on the campground gate that stated, “Due to budgetary issues this campground is closed. If you have any questions call this number.” It is always the policy to cut visitor services to maximize budget crisis exposure.
Carpenters’ wages were twice that of park rangers. But it had more effect to cut two rangers than one maintenance employee. During that time numerous carpenters, including myself, were remodeling the new superintendent’s home. New tile, carpets, trim, cabinets, countertops, etc. They did not cut us back one hour. We continued upgrading and improving the housing for many park officials while they complained of budget cuts and found ways to maximize the exposure of this and generate complaints by cutting visitor services. This translated into leverage to get the budget restored. It became so ludicrous at times that it eventually led me to quit working for the park.
The events I describe took place many years ago but it appears the exact same tactics are in effect. Cut back where the public will feel it the most, maximize the “horrible crisis,” generate complaints and sympathy, and leverage that into more money.
As a business owner if I cut back on the quality and amount of my services when I had a budget crunch, I’d be out of business pretty darn quick. Working harder with, and for, less has always paid off for me over the long haul. I don’t have the option to sit around and whine about it and I don’t have much sympathy for the Park Service when they use this tactic to improve their lot.