How the sequester could affect national parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone

File photo - Plowing Going to the Sun Highway in May 2009.

File photo – Plowing Going to the Sun Highway in May 2009.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) is warning of late openings, and scaled back services at National Parks if the sequester goes into effect next Friday.

The Washington Post gives a synopsis of what the sequester is, and how Congress got to this point.

Spokesperson Joan Anzelmo with the CNPSR said the scheduled cross the board federal cuts would mean the Park Service would have to trim its budget by $110 million in the middle of the fiscal year. She said park superintendents will have to make these cuts right in the midst of gearing up for spring plowing, an expensive endeavor.

“Our internal sense is that most of the parks are going to greatly reduce seasonal workforce and the mountain parks are increasingly looking at delaying snowplowing because they won’t have the staff to do the work,” Anzelmo said.

The CNPSR believes Yellowstone National Park would see delayed road openings inside the park, and at several entrances, and Glacier National Park would see a two week delay to the opening of the Going to the Sun Highway.

“The day the Sun Road opens business starts, and the day the Sun Road closes business ends,” said Rhonda Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald owns the Garden Wall Inn, a bed and breakfast in the heart of downtown Whitefish. She also has served on the state Tourism Advisory Council. The governor-appointed council advises the state Department of Commerce and the Governor on tourism related issues for the state. She said the road has been opening around the third Saturday in June during the rehabilitation road construction, and usually closes about the third Saturday in September.

Glacier Park Spokesperson Denise Germann said consequences of the sequester are unknown right now. Germann said potential impacts to visitors could come from reduced hours of operation at visitor centers, shorter seasons for services such as campgrounds, or limited maintenance or law enforcement services.

In a press release the CNPSR lists delayed openings and reduced services:

  •  Yellowstone National Park in WY, MT & ID will delay spring road opening operations inside the park and to the west, south, east, and northeast entrances.  Savings would come from a combination of reduced or delayed seasonal hiring, extended unpaid furloughs for employees, and reduced operating expenses including fuel, equipment and maintenance.  Access from the west (from US 20 & 191 West Yellowstone, MT), from the south (US 287/89, Jackson, WY thru Grand Teton National Park) and the east (US 20, Cody, WY) would be delayed 2-3 weeks.  Access from the northeast via the Chief Joseph Highway (near Cody, WY) and Beartooth Highway (near Red Lodge, MT) would be delayed 3-4 weeks. Visitor access to Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake would be delayed 2-3 weeks. Combined, these delays will affect over 78,000 visitors, reduce park fee revenue by more than $150,000 and have significant economic impacts to concessioners and gateway communities.

  • Grand Canyon National Park in AZ will delay opening the East and West Rim Drives and reduce hours of operation at the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center.  This will immediately affect over 250,000 visitors.  Grand Canyon receives approximately five million visitors annually.
  •  Yosemite National Park in CA, will delay the opening of the Tioga and Glacier Point roads by as much as four weeks due to limitations on snow removal resulting from reduced staffing which will impact thousands of visitors.    In 2011, Yosemite National Park had a near record 4,098,648 visitors.
  • Glacier National Park in MT will delay opening the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks, the only road which provides access to the entire park. In previous instances, closures of Going-to-the-Sun Road have resulted in financial distress for surrounding communities and concessions well into millions in lost revenues.
  • Grand Teton National Park in WY will close the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, and the Flagg Ranch Visitor Contact Station, for the summer season affecting over 300,000 visitors. Additionally, the park’s cooperating association, the Grand Teton Association will lose $225,000 in sales revenue as a result of the closures.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park in NC & TN will close five campgrounds and picnic areas affecting over 54,000 visitors.  Additionally, the reduction in staff will result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses to activities such as accidents, rockslides, ice, and hazardous tree removal for more than 35,000 vehicles per day on several heavily travelled routes in the Cades Cove District as well as the thoroughfares between Gatlinburg, TN and Pigeon Forge, TN and between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC.
  • Cape Cod National Seashore in MA will close the Province Lands Visitor Center for the season due to inability to staff and maintain it. Normal operating hours are daily, early May through late October. This closure will affect over 260,000 visitors.   Additionally, visitor access to large sections of the Great Beach will be reduced and restricted in order to protect the nesting shorebirds.  The nesting birds require daily monitoring, which a reduced staff could not provide.
  • Natchez Trace Parkway in MS, AL & TN a reduction in seasonal employees will cause closure of 25 comfort stations one day per week, affecting more than 200,000 visitors.
  • Mount Rainier National Park in WA will close the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center due to inability to staff and maintain it, affecting upwards of 85,000 visitors.
  • Denali National Park in AK will have seasonal staff shortages resulting in delayed plowing operations of Denali’s spring road, postponing the opening of the Eielson Visitor Center. This would impact over 3,500 visitors per day and would significantly affect revenue for local businesses.

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