Having worked for the National Park Service for 38 years, most recently as superintendent of Acadia National Park from 2003 to 2015, I can assure you that Americans cherish their national parks, historic sites and recreation areas. Americans know they have the best national park system in the world, with these extraordinary natural and historical resources protected and available for their enjoyment, thanks to the dedicated men and women working as rangers in the parks. That is about to change.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are calling for a 17 percent cut in the annual operating budget of national parks, including Acadia. This drastic reduction in funding would essentially eliminate Acadia’s entire seasonal workforce and dramatically curtail or end routine visitor services, diminish resource protection and allow Acadia to deteriorate and fall into disrepair.

These temporary rangers, resource specialists and maintenance workers clean restrooms, answer emergency calls, do everyday maintenance and provide basic information serving the more than 3 million visitors to Acadia each year. They manage Blackwoods, Seawall and Schoodic Woods campgrounds, with more than 620 campsites, serve as lifeguards at Sand Beach and Echo Lake, staff Hull’s Cove and Schoodic Woods Visitor Centers and maintain public use buildings like Sieur de Monts Nature Center. They also repair and maintain 81 miles of roads, 152 miles of trails and historic structures, such as the 47 miles of carriage roads, two gatehouses, the famous iron rung “ladder” trails, Baker Island Lighthouse and 16 unique stone bridges.

Without seasonal rangers, emergency response times would slow and some relatively minor calls for assistance would likely go unanswered. Parking and traffic problems will get worse without staff to manage the most popular areas, such as the summit of Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond House.

During the recent (and, thankfully, brief) federal government shutdown, national parks were ordered to remain open but with minimal staff. Dedicated employees were directed to stay home while typical visitor services languished. Search and rescue calls, emergency medical situations, snowplowing, clogged toilets, injured or problem animals, broken doors or windows, trash removal and visitor assistance requests, ranger-led programs and basic informational services were curtailed or staffed with skeleton crews, resulting in slower response times, closed facilities or problems ignored. With a dramatic budget cut similar to the one proposed now, problems such as these could become the norm rather than the exception.

Acadia’s visitation has risen by more than 55 percent since 2006, yet its operating budget has declined by 8 percent. Additional funding cuts such as those proposed by President Trump and Secretary Zinke will further reduce or eliminate vital programs that Americans want and expect at a time when more, not fewer, rangers are needed to serve increasing demands.

The dual mission of the National Park Service — providing for public use and enjoyment while protecting park resources and values now and for future generations — will most certainly suffer. America’s magnificent national parks like Acadia will no longer be the great places to visit that they are now, which will certainly discourage visitors and hurt the local and regional economies that depend on them as important economic engines.

A 2016 study found that visitors to Acadia National Park annually spend more than $274 million in the local economy and create nearly 4,200 jobs, with a cumulative impact of $333 million. Let me be clear: Any significant funding reductions for Acadia (and other national parks) will result in: fewer rangers to provide visitor services, diminished natural and historical resource protection, a loss of the quality experience for Americans visiting their national parks and negative impacts to the local economy. Surely this nation is wealthy enough to fully fund our collective national heritage contained in America’s premier National Park Service.

Sheridan Steele is a retired National Park Service superintendent at Acadia and other national parks and a member of the Executive Committee of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, representing more than 1,400 current, former and retired Park Service employees.

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