On Monday's NBC Today, correspondent Tom Costello fretted over the impact of modest reductions in government spending: "401 parks, battlefields, monuments, seashores, volcanos, and deserts make up the National Park System....But the parks and their future are under stress....The Park Service budget hasn't changed since 2006....Now the sequester is forcing another $153 million in cuts just as tourist season begins."
During a similar report on Nightly News that evening, Costello warned viewers: "Park advocates say for years the parks have been underfunded. Now some are in trouble....Despite rising costs, the Park Service budget has been flat for seven years and now has lost another $153 million in the sequester."
Given the dire tone of the coverage, one might worry that America's national parks were on the verge of shutting down. Costello turned to Mark Winsler of the Parks Conservation Association to detail the disaster about to befall Yosemite and Yellowstone: "The problem is that if a family visits a park this summer, they may see a crumbling road, they may see a visitors center that looks shabby. They may not find a ranger when they want to hear a story about what they're looking at."
Is a "shabby" visitors center really a crisis?
Following Costello's Today report, fill-in co-host Natalie Morales lamented: "They are such beautiful places right in our backyard. It's a shame that they need such repair." Co-host Willie Geist added: "I think a lot of times we take them for granted, too. We know they're there, we don't realize what it takes to keep them in the shape they're in." Morales concluded: "Certainly, definitely. They need TLC, just like everybody else."
As he wrapped up his Nightly News report, Costello worried that the parks were now "An American treasure showing a little tarnish."
Here is a full transcript of Costello's May 27 Today report:
7:18AM ET TEASE:
WILLIE GEIST: Coming up this morning, millions of Americans planning to visit our national parks this summer, but they might be surprised what they find when they get there.
7:31AM ET SEGMENT:
NATALIE MORALES: Well, the magnificent national parks like Yellowstone are certainly a popular summertime destination, but from Maine to Hawaii, visitors may find the nation's treasurers are showing signs of wear and tear and in real need of some upkeep and maintenance. Here's NBC's Tom Costello.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Parks & Wrecks? Inside the State of America's National Parks]
TOM COSTELLO: They wind themselves through the very fabric of the American heartland. From the geysers and canyons of Yellowstone to the depths of the Grand Canyon, from Glacier National Park to the Florida Everglades.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They are beautiful, and this is nature that we need to preserve because it's unique. Only the United States has this.
COSTELLO: 401 parks, battlefields, monuments, seashores, volcanos, and deserts make up the National Park System. And Americans have been flocking to them since Teddy Roosevelt took up the cause. Today 280 million visitors each year.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B: We just hope that our son is going to be able to enjoy this as much as we have with his own family.
COSTELLO: But the parks and their future are under stress.
JON JARVIS: The parks are beautiful.
COSTELLO: Jon Jarvis is the director of the National Park Service.
JON JARVIS: But to just maintain it, we need twice as much money as we currently get.
COSTELLO: Just to maintain a building like that?
JARVIS: Yes, absolutely.
COSTELLO: The Park Service budget hasn't changed since 2006, yet most of its costs have only gone up. Now the sequester is forcing another $153 million in cuts just as tourist season begins.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN [PARK RANGER]: Where are you folks visiting from?
COSTELLO: It means 900 park jobs have gone unfilled, including rangers. A thousand seasonal jobs cut, park police furloughed, buildings in need of repair haven't been touched in years, and some park entrances are unattended. What would Teddy Roosevelt say if he saw the nation's parks today?
MARK WINSLER [PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION]: I think he'd be a little concerned, frankly.
COSTELLO: Mark Winsler fights to preserve and protect the nation's parks.
MARK WINSLER: The problem is that if a family visits a park this summer, they may see a crumbling road, they may see a visitors center that looks shabby. They may not find a ranger when they want to hear a story about what they're looking at.
COSTELLO: The backlog for park upkeep that needs to be done now totals $11 billion.
JARVIS: I mean it doesn't matter whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. The American public love their national parks. And the American public expect their national parks to be taken care of.
COSTELLO: A national treasure in need of some TLC. For Today, Tom Costello, NBC News, Yellowstone.
MORALES: They are such beautiful places right in our backyard. It's a shame that they need such repair.
GEIST: I think a lot of times we take them for granted, too.
GEIST: We know they're there, we don't realize what it takes to keep them in the shape they're in.
MORALES: Certainly, definitely. They need TLC, just like everybody else.