President Barack Obama's budget request for 2015 includes $2.6 billion for the National Park Service and the funding could help boost Tennessee parks—such as the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park—which have experienced cuts in recent years.
"The budget to operate national parks has been cut by more than 7 percent compared to four years ago," Don Barger, a regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said.
Last March the sequestration—automatic, across-the-board budget cuts—took effect after members of Congress couldn't figure out a better way to address the country's budget woes.
Those budget problems have hurt the country's national parks, officials said.
Those cuts meant a loss of about $168,000 to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park's $3 million budget.
A staff that wasn't large before cuts had to manage the entire park with fewer resources. It meant that 31 people had to manage 9,036 acres that span four counties and two states, according to Nooga.com archives.
And even after Congress came to an agreement on last year's budget, it still left the national parks hurting, Barger said.
Most parks only have enough money for the basics, paying for staff and other fixed costs, such as keeping the lights on, he said.
"They said, 'we've restored funding,' but what they did was essentially prevent the second set of cuts and put the budgets back to where they were in fiscal year 2012," he said.
For the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which is the country's oldest and largest Civil War park, the president's proposal would mean a $25,000 increase in operations funding, National Parks Conservation Association spokesman Perry Wheeler said.
As the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service approaches in 2016, officials said that the budget proposal is critical since it would boost essential programs and operational needs by $38.5 million and allow for $16.6 million in fixed cost increases.
“As we prepare for our centennial, the President’s budget request recognizes the importance of investing in an historic effort to attract and host more visitors, leverage additional private philanthropy for the parks, and help build the institutional capacity to maintain the parks for the next 100 years,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a prepared statement.
The president's budget proposal would give targeted increases for the National Park Service Centennial Initiative, which is a multi-year effort to preserve the system's most important historic, natural and cultural assets.
The initiative would also expand use of parks for informal learning, volunteerism and other training and educational opportunities.
The budget request also includes a legislative proposal in support of the initiative, providing $400 million in mandatory appropriations annually for three years to fund partnership and deferred maintenance projects, according to a news release from the National Park Service.
Barger said that support for the country's national parks are one of the few—if not the only—thing that most people agree on despite their political leanings.
He described a bipartisan survey to find out how much people value national parks.
Park leaders contracted with two national polling firms—one Democrat-leaning, one Republican-leaning for the survey, which found that 92 percent of the 1,000 respondents said that national park funding should be maintained or increased.
And another recent report highlighted how much impact national parks have on tourism.
In 2012, 8.4 million visitors to national parks in Tennessee supported nearly 8,000 jobs and added $541 million to the state's economy, according the report from the National Park Service.
Most visitor spending supports jobs in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores (39 percent); hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts (27 percent); and other amusement and recreation (20 percent), according to the report.
The report also found $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park.
Nationally, that spending supported 243,000 jobs, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.
Click here to download the report.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.