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Campground Sector Feeling Sequester Impact

April 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

When the federal government’s sequestration went into effect on March 1, Jimmy Felton was fit to be tied.

As reported by Woodall’s Campground Management, the owner of the Misty River Campground in Townsend, Tenn., a 72-site campground on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, wasn’t certain of his park’s immediate future, thanks to the sequestration (or sequester) which brought forth several campground closings in the nearby national park and numerous other cutbacks across all federally owned lands.

Felton, who also is president of the Tennessee Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, stated, “The campgrounds in Tennessee will be happy to accommodate everybody looking for a camping spot. We still want you to enjoy your vacation. If Uncle Sam doesn’t want you in their campgrounds, we would love for you to come to ours.”

Felton was undoubtedly speaking for all private campground owners in the U.S., both those located near national parks as well as those located on popular routes leading to the national lands who stood to lose business if fewer travelers make their ways to the federal lands this spring and summer.

“In two weeks this will probably be over with,” he said with a tone of optimism. “The lucky part for us in Tennessee, we’re in the off-season. Until springtime, this (cutbacks) won’t affect us much. If this is still going on Memorial Day weekend, that may be different.”

“The main problem is none of the politicians on either side (party) are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re behaving like spoiled little kids. If private industry worked like the government, we’d all be in trouble,” he said.

Across the outdoor hospitality industry, others may not have been as upset as Felton as they saw sequestration join the list of factors, such as a tepid economic recovery and unseasonably high gas prices, that could bite into the coming camping season. But there was still concern.

ARVC Issues Statement

The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) issued a statement on March 6, stating that it was working alongside the U.S. Travel Association and others on several fronts to develop a strategy to help end this man-made crisis. The coalition is:

  • Engaging media to voice the travel industry’s concerns.
  • Communicating directly with Congressional offices to inform them of the deep impact the sequester will have on travelers and its ripple in the economy.
  • Activating a grassroots mobile messaging campaign that easily bridges frustrated travelers with lawmakers.
  • Developing economic research to paint a picture of the realities stemming from these reductions.

ARVC further stated that it was aggressively engaging with media outlets aimed at both policymakers and the public. Statements from the Travel Association on the sequester have already received widespread media coverage. The association is also considering select advertisements to highlight the impact of the sequester on travelers and to ask Congress to “Draw the Line” – travelers have waited long enough.

ARVC also stated that it was communicating directly with Congressional offices, particularly those in districts where travel has a particularly strong economic effect, informing them of the deep impact the sequester will have on American travelers and its broader effect across the economy.

ARVC members were also invited to the National Issues Conference for an opportunity to meet face-to-face with Congress.

Plenty of Camping Options In California

Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), said she anticipates the sequester could help CalARVC parks located near national lands.

“We suspect those parks will see an increase in reservations more because of the uncertainty the consumer sees rather than what reality might be,” she said, meaning that campers may gravitate toward private parks out of the assumption that campgrounds on federal lands are closed.

“One of our biggest fears is just the bad publicity. The public hears ‘Campgrounds Closed at National Parks’ and to be honest, the average person doesn’t know the difference between a national park, a state park and a private park. We were concerned about that last year when the California state parks were going to close. That’s just negative press the consumer sees and concludes, ‘We’ll go to Disneyland this year instead.’”

The reality Sipe and CalARVC are stressing as the sequester begins is that there are “plenty of camping options” at the 800 commercial campgrounds in California.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone

Impact Around Yellowstone Could be Huge

RV parks and campgrounds located at or near the gateways to Yellowstone National Park were still closed for the season when WCM tried to reach them and thus unavailable for comment, but the impact could be considerable there.

Yellowstone Park managers have to trim $1.75 million from Yellowstone’s $35 million annual budget, which will delay the opening of most entrances to America’s first national park by two weeks.

Local tourism industry leaders are not happy with the decision, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. A delay in the park’s traditional early May opening and other service reductions could mean millions of dollars in lost tourism and tax revenues for small, rural towns in Montana and Wyoming.

“I think it’s counterproductive, and I expect a lot of people to be raising hell,” said Mike Darby, whose family owns the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody, Wyoming, at the east gate of Yellowstone.

A two-week delay in Yellowstone’s opening means Cody will miss out on more than 150,000 visitors spending an estimated $2.3 million, according to figures released by the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. Similar shortfalls in four other gateway towns around the park could put total losses from a two-week delayed opening at more than $10 million.

To read the entire article click here.

 

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Report: NPS Wastes Money, Despite Sequester

April 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite cuts imposed by fiscal sequestration, the National Park Service (NPS) is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to expand recreational activities that will further tax a shrunken corps of park rangers, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

As a result of the sequester, NPS indicates it will leave 900 permanent position vacancies unfilled and cut hiring of seasonal employees needed to respond to spiking visitation in spring and summer by 1,000 slots – significant reductions for an agency with a permanent workforce of approximately 15,000, yuba net.com reported.

At the same time, the agency is spending $400,000 for a study justifying broader personal watercraft (jet-ski) use and another $100,000 for a commercially-sponsored bicycle race. In the case of jet-skis, NPS seeks to undo the effects of a July 2010 federal district court decision striking down special use regulations allowing jet-skis at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found the NPS approvals woefully deficient in addressing negative effects on water and air quality, wildlife, visitor use and safety and in violation of the NPS Organic Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Just days before the sequester took effect, Seashore Superintendent Dan Brown said the jet-ski study would take between 12 and 18 months and cost about $400,000, double the price of a simpler assessment, citing desires by other parks to use the assessment to rationalize opening more park areas to jet-skis.

“The Park Service wants a gold-plated study to document the absurd conclusion that jet-skis will not damage sea grasses, harass marine life or pollute in order to avoid another humiliating judicial reversal,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, arguing that such outlays belie NPS Director Jon Jarvis’ memo saying the sequester will require “difficult choices” throughout the agency. “It is downright irresponsible to open sensitive coastal areas to jet-skis without sufficient rangers to police against motorized abuse.”

The NPS also recently announced that it would spend $100,000 for “listening sessions” on special uses it may permit at Colorado National Monument. It appears the sessions are a means for NPS to reverse its earlier decisions to refuse a commercially-sponsored bicycle race in the park. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees has protested in a March 14, 2013 letter calling the expenditure both contrary to agency policy and “hard to justify in the face of the budget sequester,” and suggesting the “money should instead go to mission critical operations in the park.”

“With the sequester extended through the fiscal year, we are amazed that the Park Service is exercising so little oversight of its contracting for non-essential and frankly dubious ‘planning’ efforts,” Ruch added, noting that the Park Service has also signed public relations contracts worth several million dollars to promotes its 2016 centennial. “By redirecting these monies, the agency could hire a good number of seasonal rangers who will be otherwise absent from parks this summer. “These expenditures only lend support to those who believe that our parks are more than adequately funded.”

PEER has a pending Freedom of Information Act request to determine the amount and source of funding for the NPS centennial campaign.

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NPS Director Jarvis Outlines Park Budget Cuts

March 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Jon Jarvis

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis issued a memo Friday (March 8) detailing the scope of a 5% across-the-board budget cut and the damaging effect it will have on the already beleaguered agency.

The automatic budget cuts will force delayed openings at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, which must slash $682,000 and $1.8 million from their respective budgets, while gateway communities and the local economy will suffer, the Missoula, Mont., Missoulian reported.

To help meet the reductions, 900 permanent park service positions will not be filled. In an organization with 15,000 permanent employees, 900 vacant jobs will have a “profound effect,” Jarvis said in the memo, which went out to all National Park Service employees.

“Every activity will be affected. Some impacts will be immediate, others will accumulate over time,” he wrote.

Jarvis explained that fewer law enforcement rangers and U.S. Park Police officers will mean lower levels of protection and longer response times. Fewer maintenance personnel will mean that parks may have to close facilities when breakdowns occur – and that the $12 billion maintenance backlog will continue to grow. Fewer management and administrative personnel can translate into lower levels of accountability and oversight, he wrote.

“Our investments to control invasions by exotic plants and animals will be wasted as they regain toeholds in parks,” he wrote. “Our community support programs will reduce grants and technical assistance to states. Uncertainty about access to everything from interpretive programs to facilities could send visitors elsewhere, with impacts to entrance fees, concession revenue, and the tourism economies in gateway communities.”

The agency will hire more than 1,000 fewer seasonal employees for the 2013 fiscal year, including firefighters and search and rescue crews.

“Seasonal employees are our utility infielders, the ‘bench’ we turn to when fires break out, search and rescue operations are under way, and every other collateral duty,” Jarvis wrote. “Many of these folks return year after year. They are the repositories of amazing institutional knowledge.”

To read the entire article click here.

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Park-Reliant Firms Assess Budget Cut Impact

March 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Businesses that rely on national parks and their settings voiced concern Thursday (Feb. 28) over how the coming federal budget sequestration will affect their operations and the economies in their areas, National Parks Traveler reported.

“The basic truth is that gateway community businesses depend on our national parks being open and properly funded. Our economy depends on their economy,” said Luke D. Hyde, owner of the Calhoun Country Inn near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Bryson City, N.C.

While the National Park Service continued Thursday to sort through the details of what operations and staffing would be affected by a 5.1% budget cut if Congress and the White House fail to agree on a solution before today ends, nearly 300 businesses from across the country warned of the direct impacts the sequestration would have if it’s long-lasting.

The businesses were brought together by the National Parks Conservation Association to put a face on those beyond federal employees who stand to be affected by the budget cuts.

Click here to read the entire story.

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Park Service Identifying Initial Operating Cuts

February 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

National parks across the country have begun to release specific information on the upcoming sequestration, in an effort to warn families planning vacations, community members who depend on the parks for income, and park employees to brace for the impact, examiner.com reported.

Parks affected include:

Blue Ridge Parkway will cut 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, resulting in the closure of 50% of its visitor centers and contact stations. Eliminating seven stations will put 80 miles between open facilities along the parkway, reducing the interpretive information available to visitors.

Gettysburg National Military Park will eliminate 20% of its Student Education Programs this spring, canceling field trips for 2,400 students.

Glacier National Park will delay the reopening of Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks. Previous closures of the road resulted in lost revenue for surrounding communities and concessions of $1 million per day, a potentially devastating blow to businesses that depend on the park for tourism dollars.

Mount Rainier National Park will close its Ohanapecosh Visitor Center permanently, eliminating this resource for 60,000-85,000 visitors annually.

Grand Canyon National Park will delay the seasonal opening of its East and West Rim Drives, and reduce hours of operation at the main visitor center – impacting a quarter of a million visitors.

Lassen Volcanic National Park in California will keep its main road and campgrounds closed for an additional two weeks this spring, and close the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center for two days each week. The Red Bluff Daily News reports that this will affect 1,100 schoolchildren who would normally visit the park during these weeks, and the park will lose about $156,000 in revenue.

Shenandoah National Park has delayed the opening of campgrounds, picnic areas, and visitor centers, as well as the hiring of seasonal employees, park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog told The Daily Progress newspaper in Virginia. Preventative search and rescue operations have been scrapped, eliminating an effective program that placed people at trailheads and on trails, making sure that hikers had water and a plan to keep themselves safe on challenging trails.

“A $110 million cut will not only be devastating to the parks themselves, but to the many businesses and communities that rely on them to drive sales,” said Perry Wheeler, a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association, in an e-mail. “Our national parks represent just 1/14th of 1% of the federal budget, and they sustain a quarter-million private sector jobs and generate $31 billion from tourism and recreation alone. Every dollar invested in the National Park Service generates about $10 in economic activity.”

Now that President Barack Obama has announced that he will not meet with Congressional leadership until after the sequestration takes effect on Friday, visitors could begin to see the difference in their favorite parks by the end of this week.

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Sequestration Means Big Cuts for Park System

February 21, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The automatic budget cuts set to take effect on March 1 will delay the opening of the East and West Rim drives at the Grand Canyon and reduce hours of operation at the main visitor center. At Gettysburg, 20% of student education programs would be eliminated this spring.

According to a Washington Post report, the Blue Ridge Parkway would lose 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, resulting in the closure of half of the park’s visitor stations and leaving 80 miles between each one.

Mount Rainer would permanently close a key visitor center, and Glacier would delay the opening of a well-visited mountain pass.

Five campgrounds and picnics area would close at the Great Smoky Mountains, affecting 54,000 visitors, and the Grand Tetons would close a visitor center, information station and preserve.

These are some new details that have emerged this week of how the National Parks Service would implement a 5.1% across-the-board reduction if Congress does not avert $85 billion in spending cuts across the federal government. A Park Service memo obtained by park advocates and provided to The Washington Post outlines some of the cuts, which would affect direct services to visitors from grass cutting to access to rangers and mountain passes.

The Post also reported that park advocates are pressuring Congress to avert a $110 million cut to the system, which would affect every park, from the National Mall to Yellowstone.

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