S. Dakota Parks Make Do with Sequester
National parks managers in western South Dakota are cutting back on tours, reducing staff and downsizing programs ranging from invasive plant control to maintenance duties to meet budget-cutting mandates from Washington, D.C.
But they also are reminding tourists that they will be open for business as usual and pledge that most visitors won't notice the cuts brought by the controversial budget process known as sequestration, the Rapid City Journal reported.
A review follows.
"The staff will definitely feel the impacts of sequestration, but we're working very hard to see that the public does not," said Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education at Mount Rushmore National Memorial near Keystone.
Like other National Park Service units, Rushmore is reducing its operating budget by 5%. That means cutting more than $201,000 out of $4 million.
Memorial managers are not filling five positions that were left vacant when employees moved on to other jobs. Those include a law-enforcement ranger, education specialist, safety manager, dispatcher and historian.
In addition, there are cuts in training, overtime, supplies and equipment. For example, Mount Rushmore will not send anyone this year to a conference in Portland, Ore., that is typically attended by someone from the memorial and from the Mount Rushmore History Association in preparation for the summer season.
The memorial will maintain regular hours and programming, however, which is not the case with all other parks. Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs is closing its campground, shortening daily hours at the visitor center and cutting overtime, supplies and training.
Closing the Elk Mountain Campground saves on two seasonal positions and eliminates the need for one park vehicle, said Tom Farrell, chief of interpretation and education. The closure also means eliminating the evening ranger programs at the campground, a small, secluded spot with 64 campsites that are rarely more than half occupied.
"It's a quiet little place to get away and a great place for star watching," Farrell said. "This is the most attention that campground has ever had."
Cutting 5% of the Wind Cave operating budget means $130,000 out of a $2.6 million budget. The campground closure is expected to save $46,000 of the $130,000.
But impacts otherwise will be hard for visitors to notice, Farrell said.
"We're still open. We're still giving programs. People can still see the sixth-longest cave in the world," Farrell said. "There's still hiking trails and scenic drives and no entrance fee for the park."
At Badlands National Park near Wall, officials are trimming more than $215,000 out of a $4.3-million operating budget. That means cutting four seasonal positions, one each from divisions dealing with resource management, resource education, resource protection and facilities management or maintenance.
In addition, three permanent positions involving administration and maintenance will not be filled.
Jennie Kish Albrinck, chief of interpretation and education, said other staffers will shift duties when needed to make up for those spots left vacant.
"We're shifting from duties that are behind the scenes but very necessary to take care of front-line visitor services, like janitorial work, to keep the visitors center up and operating," she said. "There is a long-range impact with deferring some of those other duties."
Badlands officials are assessing the best place to make the cuts, which could include building repair, endangered species monitoring, invasive plant control and minimal reductions in interpretive and visitors programs.
Depending on who is affected, it might also mean a longer response time for wildfire and search-and-rescue operations, since there will be fewer people available for response, Kish Albrinck said.
Park officials are fielding calls from potential visitors who are concerned about the cuts, she said.
"We can assure them that we'll be open, the visitor center will be open and we'll be there to serve them," she said.
Jewel Cave National Monument
At Jewel Cave National Monument west of Custer, officials are cutting $58,855 from an operating budget of more than $1.1 million. That means cutting 6.5 full-time seasonal jobs, shortening hours and reducing the number of cave tours each day.
Visitors will still have plenty of cave-tour options available, said Brad Block, chief of interpretation and education. And daily hours of 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., rather than 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., during the summer season will still offer a reasonable window for visitors, Block said.
"I don't want to say it's business as usual, because that would be inaccurate," Block said. "But I don't think it's going to be noticed by the vast majority of our visitors."
Despite reductions, Block said he looks forward to the coming travel season and the flow of visitors expected at the monument.
"We actually have some new exhibits, some new visitors experiences," he said. "We've got challenges, but we're excited about summer."