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National Parks could be hard hit by sequestration cuts

2:12 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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People traveling to the nation's parks this spring will find fewer rangers on the job and reduced hours at visitors' centers if the government enacts sweeping budget cuts.

Camping and hiking areas might also be closed when the National Park Service cuts $130 million from its $2.6 billion budget under sequestration measures set to start at the end of March.

Internal estimates, and a memo from park service Director Jonathan Jarvis, were recently leaked to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. The group published the documents on its website and advocates have since pointed to them as evidence of damage from $85 billion in automatic cuts, known as the sequester.

The Blue Ridge Parkway would lose $784,000. Great Smoky Mountains National Park would lose $944,000. Yellowstone would be out $1.7 million and Yosemite would have to give up $1.4 million.

Towns surrounding the nation's parks should expect reduced tourism and lost revenue, said Jeffrey Olson, a park service spokesman, in a written statement on Tuesday.

Jarvis told regional directors on Jan. 25 to cut all seasonal positions unless they were critical to the health and safety of visitors or protecting resources. He also told managers to extend furloughs for as long as possible.

"We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operations, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources and government assets," he wrote in is memo to park directors.

Advocates say the parks, which have broad public support, are innocent bystanders in the budget battle.

"The parks have done more with less for a long time," said Don Barger, Southeast regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. "There is simply no way to absorb this level of cuts without reducing services to the public."

North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, whose district includes parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokies, said he expects Congress to approve what's called a continuing resolution to fund the government after sequestration starts March 1.

Congress has until March 27 to act before the cuts start.

That would allow for managed budget cuts instead of automatic reductions across the board.

He's talked with park managers about the cuts and is working with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe in Tennessee on the issue.

He said he is concerned about the impact cuts at the parks would have on local economy.

About 280 million people visit national parks each year, the park service said, and Visitor spending supports 247,000 jobs and has a $31 billion economic impact in local economies.

"I think it was a bad way to make cuts," Meadows said. "Do we need to make cuts? Most definitely. But making them across the board like that is not managing our fiscal responsibility."

Jon Ostendorff, USA TODAY

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