November 20, 2013

Kaine Introduces Bill To Boost Tourism At National Parks And Aid Local Economies

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Senator Tim Kaine introduced the Entrance Fee Suspension Act of 2013 today to encourage tourism at national parks and wildlife refuges and bolster local economies that were harmed by the 16-day government shutdown.  The bill will assist businesses like Captain Steve’s Bait and Tackle in Chincoteague and Carrot Tree Kitchens in Yorktown that lost revenue or were forced to close temporarily during the government shutdown because of national park closures. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the shutdown cost local economies some $480 million in lost park visitor spending, or $30 million per day. Among affected sites in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway missed out on an estimated 931,000 recreational visits and $22 million in visitor spending, while Shenandoah National Park missed out on 122,000 visits and $7.5 million in visitor spending.

This legislation aims to partially compensate for this lost business activity by suspending entrance fees at national parks and wildlife refuges for 16 days, the duration of the government shutdown, to encourage more tourists to visit. The 16-day period would occur during National Park Week and several days prior, beginning April 10 and ending April 25, 2014.

“The government shutdown had a disproportionately negative impact in Virginia, particularly in communities where tourism is a primary industry like Chincoteague, Yorktown, and the Shenandoah Valley," said Kaine. "The small businesses that rely on tourist revenue did not receive back pay for being caught in the middle of Washington budget battles.  This bill is a small achievable way that Congress can help these communities regain some of the business that was lost during the government shutdown and encourage more Americans to visit our beautiful public lands.”

In addition to providing ample time for businesses to advertise free entrance to the national parks, the bill will reimburse the National Park Service and Fish & Wildlife Service for lost revenue during that period through an extension of customs fees, with any additional funds directed towards reducing the deficit.

Senator Kaine’s full statement, submitted for the record, is below:

Ken Burns, paraphrasing Wallace Stegner, called the national parks “America’s best idea.”  This is true not just for the intrinsic value of these lands, but also for the economic impact on rural communities across the country.  Countless small business owners rely on outdoor recreational visitors for their livelihood. 

Unfortunately, last month’s government shutdown caused the visitors to stop.  For sixteen days this year – at the peak of the fall color season – restaurants and hotels were empty.  Roadside stands had no passers-by.  Canoes and kayaks, hiking maps, and bait-and-tackle sat unsold on store shelves.  One of my favorite places in Virginia – Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge – saw not one but two major events cancelled: the reopening ceremony of the historic Assateague Lighthouse and the Chincoteague wild pony roundup.  These events usually draw thousands of visitors.  The pony roundup, in particular, also serves as a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.  Unlike park rangers, the local businesses that rely on visitors got no backpay. 

That is why I’m introducing this legislation to suspend entrance fees at national parks and wildlife refuges for a period of 16 days, equal to the duration of the shutdown.  The fee suspension leads up to National Park Week in April 2014.  This will encourage more visitors to turn out to the parks and give area establishments time to publicize the free days and to drum up more business.  The bill is deficit-neutral, and considering the breadth of the national park presence across the nation, I hope it will garner bipartisan support.

We must negotiate a workable path forward on the federal budget so that the American people are never again caught up in the middle of battles in Washington.  No act of Congress can reimburse the hard-working business men and women around the nation who got hit by the shutdown, but I believe this bill will nudge a few more vacationers out of town to take in the natural beauty of our country and support the local economies while they’re at it.  Given the attention that national parks got during the shutdown, I also believe the American people deserve a larger conversation about the importance of maintaining our natural resources for future generations.  I hope this bill will spur that discussion.