Glacier Park still unsure how Sequester will impact Sun Road opening

Avalanche spotters are among the seasonal employee positions impacted by the Sequester cuts.

Avalanche spotters are among the seasonal employee positions impacted by the Sequester cuts. – Katrin Frye file photo

The wintery weather is providing some wiggle room as Glacier Park plans for Sequester budget cuts. So is a hiring freeze put in place through the Department of the Interior under which the Park Service operates. Acting Superintendent of Glacier National Park Kym Hall said the freeze started a couple of weeks ago effecting permanent positions, including hers.

Hall took over the Superintendent position from Chas Cartwright who retired at the end of last year. Hall said the freeze gives them a bit of a financial cushion to absorb the Sequester cuts for this year, but they won’t have that when putting together the 2014 budget.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to make that revenue up next year,” Hall said. The 5% cross the board budget cut translates to $682,000. Hall said Park managers have been sitting down to pencil out what can get cut.

“We’ve got a little bit of breathing room,” Hall said that most of the seasonal staff doesn’t come on board until May, giving Glacier Park more time to figure out its budget. She said each department is looking at how visitors would be impacted, what programs and services actually generate money, and impacts to the local community when analyzing what to cut.

Hall said they haven’t had to make big decisions yet like some other parks. Yellowstone National Park, for example, has had to delay opening its East Entrance, prompting the surrounding business community to see about raising funds to help. Hall said it remains to be seen if they’d have to delay opening Glacier’s Going to the Sun Highway. Right now, she says they plan to start plowing on schedule, at the beginning of April. She said plow operators are paid for from the primary budget, the Sequester cuts are impacting seasonal employees and plow support staff. That support staff includes avalanche spotters who work with the plows when they reach the high alpine sections of the road.

“We won’t let our folks go into those areas if our seasonals are not on board at that point, so it’s a little bit of a shuffle game, trying to figure out when are they likely to hit those areas where they’ll need the spotters versus when will we have the money to bring the spotters on,” Hall said. She said they’ve already advertised for the seasonal summertime jobs, but many of them on a tentative basis as final budget numbers come from Washington. Glacier is likely to roll out its plans detailing what programs and jobs stay, go, or get trimmed in the next couple weeks.

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