Fort McHenry National Monument commemorates the Battle of Baltimore and Francis Scott Key's creation of The Star-Spangled Banner. There were more than 640,000 visitors to the fort in 2011, and they spent $44 million in the Baltimore area. Fort McHenry, like our other national parks, generates critical tourism dollars.
A June 5 letter ("A better way for Ft. McHenry to handle the sequester") complained that the park service, through perceived "mismanagement," has unnecessarily limited the hours the grounds are open to the public for recreation. Rather than criticizing the resource-strapped Park Service, however, the true target of our frustration should be the elected officials whose inability to compromise has led to harmful budget cuts.
Damaging cuts to the Park Service budget are forcing staff at Fort McHenry and national parks across the country to make tough decisions — decreasing hours, reducing rangers who protect and inspire park visitors, and forgoing important maintenance projects. Park budgets already are suffering from years of underfunding. These deep cuts leave little discretion to park managers, who struggle to protect both resources and visitors, while accommodating all desired uses.
National parks support billions of dollars in local economic activity and more than a quarter-million jobs from nearly 300 million annual visitors — and the whole system costs a mere .15 percent of the federal budget. Congress should protect national treasures like Fort McHenry and the billions they bring to our economy by stopping these debilitating cuts. I urge people to call on our members of Congress to agree to a larger budget deal and to assure adequate park funding. Our national parks are not part of the problem — they are part of the solution.
Anne Donahue, Baltimore