Campgrounds at risk of closure through budget cuts

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 11:35 PM

A group that obtained memos form the National Park Service concerning the impact of sequestration is now saying cuts at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park could result in the closure of five campgrounds and picnic areas.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) says the cuts could impact 54,000 visitors to the park, and that personnel cuts could increase response times and services to visitors throughout the park.

“We think it’s really important with the Smokies being the most visited park that (visitors) know what to expect,” said Joan Anzelmo, spokesperson for CNPSR.

Sequestration refers to a set of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget that are set to take effect March 1 unless the White House and Congress reach an agreement to avert them. Officials at the park have referred questions about the local impact to Jeffrey Olson, the acting spokesman for the National Park Service.

Olson again referred questions to a written statement his office issued several days ago about the matter.

However, a source familiar with discussions about the cuts confirmed they are among the possible consequences for sequestration. Officials throughout the park service are trying to determine where they would have to make cuts, and no official decisions have been made on the matter.

The release from the NPS acknowledges the public should expect reduced hours and services at all the parks, monuments and memorials, preserves and other sites served by the agency.

“Visitors would see reduced hours of operation for visitor centers, shorter seasons, and possibly closing of camping, hiking and other recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees and ... resources,” Olson said.

The CNPSR believes the reduced staff will mean less road maintenance and cause greater emergency response times for accidents and other issues in the park, as well as the closing.

They’re basing the projections on the memos they obtained from the NPS but also from conversations with people familiar with the ongoing discussions, Anzelmo said.

The memo, issued by NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis in January, calls for officials to assume a 5 percent cut from the funds allocated for the 2013 fiscal year. It forbids them from moving personnel from one fund source to another, or shifting costs to project or fee accounts.

He tells staff to start with an immediate hiring freeze as well as eliminating travel, non-mandatory training, overtime and some purchases.

The CNPSR is made up of former NPS employees from posts all over the country and at every level within the organization, Anzelmo said.

 jfarrell@themountainpress.com