Senate’s Bill Reverses NPS’s 5% Sequester Cuts

August 8, 2013 by · Comments Off on Senate’s Bill Reverses NPS’s 5% Sequester Cuts 

A Senate appropriations bill treats the National Park Service much better than does a similar measure in the House of Representatives, National Parks Traveler has reported.

Of course, much haggling remains between the chambers before we have a final picture of how the Park Service will fare, financially, in the next budget year. However, the appropriations bill in the Senate is nearly $350 million above the House bill, and also reverses the damaging sequester cuts, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

Click here to read the entire story.



Sequester’s Impact: Mostly Invisible to Tourists

August 6, 2013 by · Comments Off on Sequester’s Impact: Mostly Invisible to Tourists 

Philanthropy and nonprofits have kept the consequences of across-the-board federal budget cuts largely invisible to tourists traveling through the country’s national parks this summer.

But officials don’t know how long the effects of the sequester will remain unseen, the Billings Gazette reported.

The fissures that would otherwise remain open in the aftermath of the 5% budget cuts, which triggered March 1, have been capped thanks to the altruism of private individuals, park associations and park foundations.

A one-time donation to Grand Teton National Park saved a visitor center, ranger station and preserve center from being shuttered this summer, said Jackie Skaggs, spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park.

If those buildings would have been closed, they would have been noticeable changes for tourists. But a $135,000 gift from associates who work with the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve Center, the Grand Teton Association and an anonymous donor helped keep the park looking as if it was operating as usual.

Click here to read the entire story.



Sequester’s Cuts Can’t Quiet Va. Music Series

July 17, 2013 by · Comments Off on Sequester’s Cuts Can’t Quiet Va. Music Series 

Bluegrass music fans listen to a concert on Roanoke Mountain in southwestern Virginia.

Diminished funding has not stopped a summertime tradition on Roanoke Mountain in southwestern Virginia.

On Sunday (July 14), close to 200 people traveled up the mountain with folding chairs in tow to listen to the sounds of local trio Judy, Henry and Jack.

The performance was part of the Roanoke Mountain Campground Concert Series, which continued this year even as funding for the campground did not, the Roanoke Times reported.

Earlier this year the longtime concert series was in jeopardy after the National Park Service opted not to reopen the campground amid federal budget cuts caused by the sequester.

Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a Roanoke-based nonprofit group that supports the attraction, stepped in to staff the event with volunteers.

So the show has gone on, and patrons have continued to come .

“It’s the same old intimate program,” said Dennis McKim, who said he’s been coming for years and even played the concert series in the past.

He said many concert goers have been coming for ages and know one another.

“It’s seems like a little family. Everyone knows everyone,” he said. “I hope they keep it going. I hope it continues.”

Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway has two volunteers staff each concert. They greet people, show them where to park and make sure they know what time the area closes .

Volunteers Jerry Thompson and Jay Griffin have staffed several concerts this year, including Sunday’s performance.

Both said they enjoy the bluegrass music. As cars pulled into the campground off Mill Mountain Road, the band could be heard faintly as the two directed traffic.

Thompson said people stop showing up shortly after 7 p.m., allowing him to venture down the hill to listen to the music.

“This is just bluegrass country,” he said. “It’s up in the mountains. It’s got a good feeling. It’s quiet.”

Even as the crowd on the grass grew, the only sounds were the buzz of insects and the music of the string band.

Griffin said he wants to see the series continue.

“It’s a tradition,” he said. “It’s been a tradition.”

For many in attendance Sunday, the concert has been something they’ve done each summer for years.

Carol Butterworth said she’s been coming for several years because her husband loves the music so much.

She said people are still attending this year even if the campground isn’t open , but she’s noticed that the park is showing signs of deterioration from the lack of maintenance since the closing.

“I wish there was something they could do to open it up,” she said.

The series continues each Sunday until Sept. 1. Admission is free. Gates open at 6 p.m. and music begins at 7 p.m.

Behind the Scenes – How the Sequester Hurts

July 15, 2013 by · Comments Off on Behind the Scenes – How the Sequester Hurts 

Map shows the location of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Sand Island, where one or more more bears have caused concerns to campers, is the large island on the west (left) side of the area in black box.

One of the most popular islands in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was closed to daytime visitors earlier this month because a bear, or possibly more than one, had been stealing food from kayakers and campers.

Though the hungry bruin is oblivious to the federal sequestration, the government’s automatic spending cuts that went into effect in March are affecting national parks, forests, trails, wildlife refuges and scenic waterways in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

For the most part, the sequestration is not being felt much by visitors, but behind the scenes fewer people are being hired for seasonal work, maintenance is being deferred and invasive species management has been halted. There are fewer people enforcing rules, advising visitors of safety concerns, leading educational hikes and talks, cleaning toilets and maintaining trails — and taking care of misbehaving bears.

At the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, the Budget Control Act has meant only half the usual 14 seasonal employees were hired this summer. Among the unfilled openings are maintenance workers and a park ranger. Plus permanent positions that recently opened can’t be replaced, like the mechanic responsible for maintaining the four drinkable water systems, three on islands and one at Little Sand Bay, as well as 10 solar panel arrays that power ranger cabins and lighthouses, Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said.

There’s no longer a staff person who would normally devote time to handling unruly bears’ behavior and alerting visitors how to safely store food. So when a clever bear boarded a boat beached on Sand Island, opened a cooler and ran off with sausages and Cokes, park managers decided to close the island to daytime visitors.

“The bear problem on Sand Island is not caused by sequestration, but our response to the bear is affected by sequestration,” said Krumenaker, who doesn’t know when Sand Island will reopen.

“The two things I worry most about is the safety of visitors and the condition of the natural resource. If we can’t protect wildlife from the people and people from the wildlife, something’s got to give.”

The Apostle Island Visitor Center in Bayfield is open every day during the summer months from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Two years ago it was open until 6 p.m. during the peak season. There are fewer staffers to talk to kayakers at boat landings and advise them of water and weather conditions. Fewer people spread among the 21 islands means a longer response time in emergencies, Krumenaker said.

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway has cut almost $200,000 from its budget this year, and that means hiring nine fewer seasonal employees and leaving open the terrestrial biologist position. The cuts included two law enforcement officers, two maintenance workers and three people who would normally handle education programs.

“There are less patrols on the river,” Riverway Superintendent Chris Stein said, “less opportunity to interact with park visitors and instruct them on the rules and fewer safety inspections of boats.”

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway includes 250 miles of the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers in northwestern Wisconsin.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail has cut $46,000 from federal funding it funnels to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to support operations spread over nine scientific reserve units that preserve evidence of glaciation including Devil’s Lake State Park, Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, Kettle Moraine State Forest and Campbellsport Drumlins.

That means less money to buy supplies for volunteers who maintain 630 miles of the Ice Age Trail like hand tools, hard hats and chainsaws as well as safety training and wood to build walkways across marshlands. The travel budget has been scaled back, though none of the six employees in the Ice Age Trail’s Madison office will have to take furlough days.

“We’ve dramatically reduced our costs almost to the point of pulling the copy machine and going to pencils,” Superintendent John Madden said. He added, “I’m confident my budget next year will be less than this year.”

At the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which cuts a large swath across northern Wisconsin, there have been no changes due to the sequestration. The same number of seasonal employees have been hired, visitor centers remain fully staffed and open, and maintenance is being done as scheduled, Forest Supervisor Paul Strong said.

The sequestration is affecting the U.S. Forest Service nationally with about 500 fewer firefighters hired this year — in many cases they’re seasonal employees — as well as 50 fewer fire engines to battle forest fires around the nation, said Jane Cliff, a spokeswoman for the Eastern Region of the U.S. Forest Service based in Milwaukee.

The National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program has been affected in the state because the Wisconsin field office has sharply curtailed travel to communities seeking help for recreation projects. Since March Angie Tornes, Wisconsin field office manager whose office is in Milwaukee, has been unable to attend some meetings on projects such as the Lake Michigan Water Trail, Merrill’s River Bend Trail and the Niagara Escarpment Greenway project.

For the Lake Michigan Water Trail, Tornes has worked with the Wisconsin DNR, Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission, boaters and paddlers to identify public access points along the state portion of the lake. But because her travel budget has been cut she’s missed meetings where locations were selected.

“The sequester has been a huge energy drain for everybody in rearranging schedules, canceling meetings and delaying projects,” Tornes said.



Bar Harbor Dislikes Sequester Ripple Effect

May 29, 2013 by · Comments Off on Bar Harbor Dislikes Sequester Ripple Effect 

A park visitor is set up to photograph Bar Harbor, Maine, from the eastern side of Cadillac Mountain, as fog approaches from the Atlantic Ocean. The line coming off the island to the right is a breakwater that was constructed to block ocean waves from entering the harbor. Photo courtesy of

Editor’s Note: The Maine Broadcasting Network broadcast the following story last week. Click here to listen to a 3-minute, 21-second audio version of the story.

Last week, inn keepers, restauranteurs and other members of the Bar Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce sat down with top officials at Acadia National Park to clear the air.

Local business leaders said the tourism season is off to a slow start, due in part, to the park’s decision to delay opening up the road to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Acadia officials said budget cuts under sequestration left them no choice. But tourism-dependent businesses said the park should have consulted with them more closely about ways the road could have been opened sooner.

If you’re coming to the Bar Harbor area to explore Acadia National Park, few places are as nice to stay in as the Bar Harbor Inn. Standing on a pier in front of the inn that extends out into Frenchmen Bay, one can see lobster boats, fishing boats, a four-masted schooner. And the Bar Harbor Inn is a beautiful old stone and gray-shingled house that dates back to the late 1800s. The inn has come to depend on the National Park Service opening all of the roads in Acadia National Park in mid-April because people, when they come here, they want to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain.

“They really want to go there, take a picture, enjoy the mountain, the views,” said Fred Link, General Manager of the Bar Harbor Inn.

He said early season guests who booked rooms in advance were upset to learn that the road to the top of Cadillac was closed.

“I mean a lot of them were very disappointed,” said Link. “They came for two or three nights and what a lot of our guests ended up doing was just staying staying for the one night. They decided to go down to southern Maine and maybe spend a night or two there before going home.”

According to the most recent estimates nearly 280 million visits to national parks across the country generated almost $13 billion in revenue in gateway communities, including $186-million in the region surrounding Acadia.

“Acadia is really, for us, what sets us apart from other Maine destinations,” said Chris Fogg, who heads the Bar Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce.

He said sequestration-related cuts at the park have left tourism-dependent businesses in the region uncertain about what the future may hold.

“I think what other communities maybe did better than we did was prepare and meet with the national park management to say, How is this going to impact all of us and what can we do, working together, moving forward, to mitigate some of the impacts of it?” Fogg said.

When officials at Yellowstone National Park announced they would have to wait two weeks to open two entrances blocked by snow, officials in Cody and Jackson, Wyoming worried they could lose as much as four million dollars in hotel revenue. So city officials worked with the park and local chambers of commerce to raise money to open the entrances on time.

“We can’t wait, in 2014, and find out the park is opening a month late again,” said Nancy Tibbets, who runs the Bar Harbor Quality Inn.

She recently attended a meeting where local business leaders’ frustration with Acadia administrators boiled over.

“We went to that meeting with, ‘This is your community and we want to work with you,”‘ said Tibbets. “If it’s a money issue, there’s some ways we can fundraise. We know this is coming. It’s not going to go away.”

Tibbets said park officials were noncommittal about a joint fundraising effort. But Len Bobinchock, Acadia’s Deputy Superintendent, said the park has to approach such ventures cautiously.

“We have to be careful because we’re a federal agency and there are restrictions on us going around and asking for funding, private donations,” Bobinchock said.

According to Bobinchock, the park is committed to doing everything in its power to open on time next spring, and Officials are already working on a budget to figure out how much it would cost.


NPS Canceled Furloughs for U.S. Park Police

May 28, 2013 by · Comments Off on NPS Canceled Furloughs for U.S. Park Police 

Jon Jarvis

The remaining furlough days for U.S. Park Police employees have been canceled. The National Park Service (NPS) made the announcement Friday (May 24), before the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

The 641 sworn officers patrol national parkland and monuments in the Washington area, New York City and San Francisco.

The furloughs will officially end June 1, according to a memo from NPS, Federal News Radio, Washington, D.C., reported.

“As a result of cost-cutting measures implemented earlier this year, and now armed with seven months of actual costs — versus projections — we are able to reduce the furlough to the three days already taken,” Jonathan Jarvis, director of NPS, said in a statement. The U.S. Park Police is a division of the National Park Service.

The cost-cutting measures mentioned by Jarvis include limits placed on overtime and travel, canceling the organization’s new recruiting class, and restricting use of park police helicopters to emergencies only.

“This is good news for our employees, good news for our visitors as we start the summer season this Memorial Day Weekend, and good news for the security of our nation’s icons — the places that the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Park Police protect every day,” Jarvis said about the cancelation of the furloughs.

However, Jarvis warned more furloughs could be needed in years to come if sequestration continues.

“We will have to continue to make tough decisions with our limited resources and reevaluate additional cuts and furloughs to our parks and employees,” Jarvis said.

Ian Glick, chairman of the Park Police’s Fraternal Order of Police, called the news “encouraging,” but said other issues within the agency also need to be addressed.

“It is important to point out that the agency is still understaffed, poorly funded and lacks financial control of its own operations,” Glick said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to bring public and congressional attention to the needs of our membership in protecting the public, as well as our historical and natural resources.”

News of the canceled furloughs came the same day 115,000 other federal employees from at least six different agencies were forced to take unpaid leave due to sequestration.


Report: America’s ‘Best Idea’ is Under Attack

May 24, 2013 by · Comments Off on Report: America’s ‘Best Idea’ is Under Attack 

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Just ahead of the Memorial Day Weekend, the traditional kickoff to summer, a Democratic congressman has released a report pointing to how the budget sequestration has impacted the National Park System, citing reduced search-and-rescue capabilities in some parks to dirtier restrooms in others, National Parks Traveler reported.

“Because of recent sequester cuts … parks are closing or delaying the opening of roads, campgrounds and facilities, reducing their hours of operation and visitor services, and deferring or forgoing maintenance, all of which threatens to reduce the number of visitors who spend money in nearby communities,” reads the report issued today by U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “Simply put, America’s best idea is under attack by America’s worst idea.”

Click here to read the entire story in National Parks Traveler.



Park Service Frills Persist, Despite Sequester

May 23, 2013 by · Comments Off on Park Service Frills Persist, Despite Sequester 

Editor’s Note: The following story comes courtesy of WSB-TV, Atlanta.

If you’re thinking of heading to one of our national parks this Memorial Day, you might be in for a surprise.

The national parks are being squeezed by federal budget cuts, reducing operations.

But there are complaints the National Park Service is still squandering tax money on trips, travel and fun for its own staff and executives.

The U.S. Interior Department posted a video warning about the stiff budget cuts it’s facing.

“Those cuts will mean reduced operation, shorter season and the possible closure of campgrounds,” the video said.

Despite all the reduced operations at parks nationwide Channel 2’s Scott MacFarlane dug deeper and found the park service is still spending money on trips for its own staff rather than plowing the money into the parks.

For example:

  • About $100,000 in federal transportation tax money will be spent to send employees to a June conference in Dayton for a conference on covered bridges. A spokesman said the conference includes sessions about keeping those bridges safe and a covered bridges tour.
  • The park service is also sending about 10 staffers to an outdoor recreation conference in Michigan, which along with many training sessions for staff, also initially included a wine reception event, which was later canceled.

A group representing park service workers said the National Park Foundation, a partner of the agency, is also coughing up $12 million on PR work for its 100th birthday celebration.

“Spending $12 million to celebrate the centennial while laying off thousands of people sends a disastrous mixed signals,” said Jeff Ruch with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The park service acknowledges spending money on marketing. A spokeswoman said the events are valuable.

The Department of the Interior has already taken aggressive steps to reduce spending across the agency and will continue to look for innovative ways to cut costs,” the spokeswoman said in a statement to MacFarlane.

“The National Park Foundation, our national philanthropic partner, has retained a highly respected communications firm to help ensure that our 2016 Centennial is both a celebration and an opportunity to invite all Americans to get to know their 401 national parks. We appreciate the generosity of the Foundation who is funding this project and the expertise it is providing. The National Park Service is not a party to the contract,” said National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst.


Sequester the New Normal for National Parks

May 21, 2013 by · Comments Off on Sequester the New Normal for National Parks 

Old Faithful may be dependable, but the days of regular annual increases in federal support for national parks may be coming to an end.

Sequestration budget cuts might stick at Yellowstone Park, Superintendent Dan Wenk said Monday (May 20).

“What we started with this fiscal year might become the ‘new normal,’” Wenk said while speaking during National Parks Day at the Cody Club luncheon, the Cody (Wyo.) Enterprise reported.

He and Grand Teton Park superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said if President Obama’s proposed budget passes, their budgets will return to previous levels – but neither expects that to happen.

At least for this season, the effects of sequestration were significantly blunted by getting the east and south gates open on time May 3 – rather than two weeks later, as had been expected, Wenk said.

“I don’t know how to put it, other than to say thank you,” Wenk said, regarding local fundraising efforts that paid for Wyoming Department of Transportation crews to do the necessary plowing.

That helped Yellowstone National Park avoid cuts in services, he said.

Instead, the Park Service might increase fishing fees, and has already raised some camping fees, Wenk said.

On the positive side, the park has almost wrapped up another 20-year contract with Xanterra Parks & Resorts as the Yellowstone’s primary concessionaire.

That could result in Xanterra investing up to $140 million in Yellowstone, Wenk said.

It will involve such things as cabins being used to house employees opening up for park guests, as Xanterra builds new employee dormitories, he said.

In other business, Wenk noted the proposed YNP winter use plan is still open for public comment on the park’s website,

Comments are due by June 17.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we have a proposal which the access community and the environmental community can both accept,” he said.

Wenk also noted the “nine-mile slump” on the east gate road west of Sylvan Pass should be fully repaired this year.

Part of the road collapsed there during the exceptionally strong spring runoff in 2011.

Visitors should expect some delays, and automatic “traffic lights” at the repair site, Wenk said.


Three Smoky N.P. Campgrounds Still Closed

May 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Three Smoky N.P. Campgrounds Still Closed 

With no end in sight for the federal sequestration, many attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remain closed, WATE-TV, Knoxville, Tenn., reported.

At the beginning of March, park officials closed down three campgrounds and made several other cuts to make do with a smaller budget.

The campgrounds affected – Look Rock, Abrams Creek and Balsam Mountain – remain closed more than two months later.

Park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said the campgrounds were selected because they are the least frequently used.

Those three campgrounds bring in a total of 54,000 visitors a year, but also require a lot of maintenance.

“To operate these campgrounds, it’s like operating a small city. We have sewage systems and water systems that have to be maintained to meet state health standards and then of course there’s the litter pickup and the garbage removal as well as the mowing and just maintaining those sites so that we’re not damaging the resources that are there,” Soehn explained.

Park visitors who prefer the smaller campgrounds say their closure won’t prevent them from returning to the park.

“This year we are limited in which places we can camp out for our spring and summer and fall campouts, so we’re limited to the Elkmont Campground and some of the other ones that are larger, since we can’t stay in Look Rock or any of the smaller ones,” said campers Michele Montgomery and Kent Buske.

The park has more than 3,000 volunteers, and they say their duties haven’t changed even though seasonal hiring has been limited.

“I haven’t seen any change. What I do, I do the back country office here at Sugarlands. In fact, we have four rangers and more volunteers than we had last year,” said Herb Payne, who has volunteered at the park for 18 years.

With Washington no closer to a resolution on the sequestration issue, park officials do not have a timeframe for when the recreation areas might reopen.

The National Park Service maintains developed campgrounds at seven other locations in the park:

• Big Creek
• Cades Cove
• Cataloochee
• Cosby
• Deep Creek
• Elkmont
• Smokemont

Click here to watch a video on this story.




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