The federal government’s impending automatic budget cuts could affect your vacation plans. The U.S. Department of Interior says national park budgets will face a 5 percent cut. That’s if Congress doesn’t come to an agreement by Friday.
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis says 5 percent might not sound like a lot of money, but the vast majority of national parks’ budgets cover things like salaries and utilities.
That leaves little wiggle room for educational programs and campground and road maintenance. It could also mean longer lines at entrances as the vacation season picks up.
Jarvis said he’s concerned about visitor safety because of hiring freezes on permanent and seasonal workers.
“This is the period when we’re hiring our seasonals that will fight fires or provide law enforcement or search and rescue,” Jarvis said.
Park supervisors said they are working to ensure employee and visitor health and safety when deciding what to cut.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says thousands of employees may have to be furloughed.
Here’s what you could expect to see at some of the Pacific Northwest’s most visited parks and monuments:
Mount Rainier National Park
The park will be closing the Ohanapecosh visitor center, on the eastern side of the park, for the summer. The center is normally closed in the winter. The campground will remain open for a shortened season. Restrooms will remain open. Deputy superintendent Tracy Swartout said this could affect 60,000 to 80,000 visitors a year.
That closing would also affect 400 interpretive programs, like guided tours and front desk information.
Cougar Rock campground would also be open for a shorter amount of time. Swartout said, looking on the bright side, closing Cougar Rock would allow construction crews to work in the area this summer.
All parks have a hiring freeze. The freeze will affect the duration and start date of seasonal employees at the park. Those positions range from people who work the front gates to visitor services.
Nonessential travel and performance awards will be eliminated for employees, and training will be greatly reduced.
“The visitor will be expected to experience increased delays in coming in and less services available once they get inside the park,” Swartout said.
Crater Lake National Park:
Lost Creek campground may be shut down. This is a small, tents-only campground that is usually open from July to October.
All but one restroom around the rim would be closed. The cleaning schedule and trash pick-up would not be as frequent.
Snowplows would not be repaired as quickly because fewer mechanics would be available. That would affect road conditions in the winter and during spring opening.
The hiring freeze will affect the number of seasonal employees this summer.
Crater Lake spokeswoman Marsha McCabe said although the park has made preparations for possibly budget cuts, it’s still in the planning process.
“Nothing is set in stone,” McCabe said. “It’s still ongoing, and I’m sure will continue to evolve.”
Olympic National Park:
The hiring freeze has meant 14 full-time positions have been left vacant. These positions opened up when employees retired or transferred.
Obstruction Point and Deer Park road openings would be delayed because fewer snowplows would be available. Both roads provide access to the high country areas.
Four seasonal employees would not be hired back to work in interpretive programming and visitor service areas. Park officials estimate 35,000 visitors would be affected by reduced visitor center hours and shortened seasons. Ranger programs would also be limited.
Routine maintenance would be reduced. This includes things like mowing, weeding and cleaning the restrooms.
Barb Maynes, a spokeswoman with Olympic National Park, said the park is working to lessen the effects felt by visitors and local communities.
“If we could make a reduction in a well-used campground versus a lesser-used campground, we would be looking at that. We are going to be guided by levels of visitation and how important some destinations are,” Maynes said.
North Cascades National Park:
The number of public education programs would be reduced.
Four park ranger positions and six seasonal worker positions would not be filled. The seasonal workers mow and pick up trash around the park.
The park may also have to close the Hozomeen campground, at the north end of Ross Lake. North Cascades spokesman Ken Hires said that would affect about 20,000 day and overnight campers this summer.
“When times are tough, you have to adjust your belt and keep on going,” Hires said.
Craters of the Moon National Monument:
The hiring freeze has left a law enforcement position vacant for five months.
Ranger-led walks and talks would be reduced. They would also begin later in the season and end earlier.
Weeding and mowing jobs would be reduced.
Mandatory travel and training for monument employees would be eliminated.
Craters of the Moon spokesman Ted Stout said the budgetary cuts “directly affects what kind of summer operations and interpretive programming we can do.”
The department released a report that says national park visitors contributed $30 billion to local economies nationwide.
The automatic budget cuts wouldn’t just hamper firefighting on national park lands. Other cuts would reduce the money available for fighting wildfires on public forests and rangelands. That could be a big hit in the Northwest, where millions of acres are owned by the federal government.
The proposed budget cuts could also mean a reduction in federal spending for clean air and water programs. Less funding will be seen in the Pacific Northwest. It would mean cuts of 3 million dollars in Washington, 2 million dollars in Oregon, and 1 million dollars in Idaho.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it will have to reduce superfund site cleanup programs, energy star programs and will have a hard time enforcing environmental regulations.
That also includes funding to prevent pollution, and pesticide and hazardous waste spills.
Each state will also lose fish and wildlife protection grants.