Encouraging the Next Generation to Visit National Parks
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks
Chairman Daines and Ranking Member Hirono,
Thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts on encouraging the next generation to visit our nation’s National Parks. As National President of the National Treasury Employee Union (NTEU), I represent over 150,000 federal employees in 31 different agencies, including the National Park Service (NPS).
NTEU appreciates your subcommittee tackling the problem of attracting millennials to the National Parks. We want to make sure that every generation can view the majesty of our country’s spectacular natural beauty. We would caution, however, that funds are already stretched thin in all current NPS functions that threaten the millennial -- and all generation’s— visitor experience. Recent budgets indicate that the Park Service will suffer some diminution of funds in Fiscal Year (FY) 18. Rather than seek costly contracts with firms that believe they can attract the next generation, we believe there are talented personnel already in the Park Service that can produce a vision of what’s needed. Here are some of the ideas we have heard from our younger members:
• Consider offering entrance discounts in new ways. Park fees at most places are steep. Let the younger generation in for free to see what they’re missing, such as by having a free day once a month, or consider piloting other types and methods of entrance discounts to younger visitors mirrored on current discounts available to seniors;
• Launch a social media campaign where people are given the opportunity to weigh in with what they like about a certain park, and what offerings would most attract them as visitors, including Wi-Fi availability options. The key to such a campaign is that it should be genuine – no gimmicks, and no outright advertising schemes.
Since FY 2011, the NPS workforce has decreased by more than 11 percent, at a time when visitors to the parks have increased by 17 percent. As one of our chapter leaders put it, “We’ve gone from doing more with less, to doing less with less.” As you may be aware, maintenance is currently deferred because there are no available funds, which greatly impacts the visiting public’s ability to both frequent and to enjoy our parks, regardless of age.
In fact, a smaller FY 18 NPS budget would have additional, negative tangible impacts on the visiting public that include: reduced hours of park operations; reduced Visitor Center hours; closing some Visitor Centers at parks that have multiple Centers; fewer ranger-led talks; decreased ability to conduct Search and Rescue operations for lost or injured visitors; increased maintenance backlogs leading to accidents in areas where sidewalks and other structures may go without repair or replacement; and, forced overtime for maintenance staff during the summer months because of serious staff shortages. Many parks have already implemented strategies to reduce costs, and many other parks cannot achieve additional savings because they do not have periods of lower visitation or a way to limit public access. Congress should keep these current realities in mind as final deliberations are made concerning FY 18 funding levels.
Given this, it clearly makes sense to introduce new initiatives for attracting various groups with the budget in mind. On behalf of NTEU’s NPS members, I would like to point out that it is essential to not overlook ideas from the current workforce in tackling NPS challenges, including the needs and wants of the millennial generation. It will continue to be the case that the most important part of a visit to a National Park is the stunning setting and the interaction of the Park Rangers with visitors. I appreciate the opportunity to share our views to ensure the viability of our nation’s parks.