Approaching sequestration should not mean layoffs

Park continues plans for campground closures
Feb. 28, 2013 @ 11:53 PM

As the March 1 deadline for possible budget cuts — the sequester — in the national parks approaches, one official with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park said five campgrounds and picnic areas in the park would close, but she doesn't foresee layoffs.

Park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said Balsam Mountain campground and picnic area, Look Rock campground and picnic area, and Abrams Creek campground will close if the sequester happens. Park administrators created planning scenarios to identify areas of the park that could be closed with limited impact.

"When we were instructed on doing these planning scenarios, the park looked at areas that would have the least amount of impact on visitors as possible, and these were some of the lesser used areas in the park," Schroer said.

The closures will still affect approximately 54,000 people who visit those areas, according to National Park Service information, but Schroer said closing those campgrounds and picnic areas would allow the park to cover its $944,000 budget cut for Fiscal Year 2013 — from $18,880,000 to $17,936,000 — in the event of the sequester.

That means no layoffs, Schroer said.

"Based on our scenario planning, we had enough flexibility that we didn't anticipate having to furlough full-time staff," Schroer said.

The park is not, however, hiring any permanent positions at the moment, nor will it be making any seasonal hires, which Schroer said usually make up "a big part of the workforce," if the budget is cut.

Schroer stressed that the closures are only preliminary plans, and that the sequester may not happen.

"We're hopeful that something will pass and they will come up with a way to solve this before the deadline," Schroer said.

rhargett@themountainpress.com