National park selects campgrounds, picnic areas likely to close if budget cuts imposed

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 10:49 AM

Officials at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have chosen some of their least used campgrounds and picnic areas for closure if federal budget cuts (sequestration) happens.

Word has been coming out from other sources about the possible impact of cuts on the park, but officials in the Smokies had been referring questions on the matter to a Washington spokesman for the National Park Service.

Friday however, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn confirmed the park is looking to close its three least-used campgrounds and two least-used picnic areas as part of efforts to trim spending. The picnic areas and campgrounds at Look Rock and Balsam Mountain would be closed under the proposed cuts, along with the Abrams Creek campground.

“This is still under consideration,” Soehn said. “Nothing is finalized, even if the sequestration happens.”

While a memo leaked from National Park Service director John Jarvis calls for a hiring freeze, Soehn said the park has not made a decision on whether to do so.

Park officials have been working for weeks to find cuts that will have the least impact on visitors to the most visited park in the country.

“Our superintendent has worked very hard to present things that will be the least impact to our visitors,” Soehn said.

They remain hopeful that the federal government will find a way to avoid sequestration, a set of self-imposed, across-the-board federal spending cuts that would kick in March 1 if the White House and Congress can’t reach a new spending agreement.

“I think we’re in the same holding pattern as the rest of America and we don’t expect to know more until after March 1,” Soehn said.

n jfarrell@themountainpress.com