National Park Service Sequestration Update: Closed Campgrounds, Fewer Seasonal Employees, Sunday Closures

Closed campgrounds, Sunday closures of National Park System units, and 900 permanent positions that will go unfilled are just some of the latest details of how the National Park Service is responding to the ongoing federal budget sequestration.

* At Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, officials said the 64-site Elk Mountain Campground would remain closed. That move eliminates the need for two summer employees to maintain the campground and interpretive rangers to present evening campfire programs, park officials said.

"The sequestration has forced us to make some tough decisions that will impact visitors to Wind Cave National Park," said Superintendent Vidal Davila. "People will have fewer opportunities to tour Wind Cave, the park's primary resource, as a result of less staff."

The 5 percent budget cut also will lead to a reduction in invasive plant control at the park, maintenance of fences and building repairs, science and research activities, natural resource monitoring, and wildlife management programs.

* In Alabama, Park Service officials said the sequestration forces them to close the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail on Sundays until further notice.

* At Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, the cuts could lead to delays in snow plowing this spring on the Rainy Lake Ice Road, the Kab-Ash Ice Road, and the entrance to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center as park officials look to reduce fuel consumption and overtime pay.

Park officials say that when snowfall occurs before or after regular park operating hours, snow removal will be delayed until personnel report for normal duty hours. If significant snowfall occurs during weekends the Rainy Lake Visitor Center may be closed.

* At Badlands National Park in South Dakota, the 5 percent budget cut equates to a 24 percent reduction in seasonal hires for positions that support interpretive talks and walks, school programs, custodial services, road, fence and building repair and maintenance, science and research activities, natural resource monitoring, and search and rescue operations.

"The seasonal workforce is the heart of the park," said Superintendent Eric Brunnemann. "This sort of loss cuts deeply into our ability to serve the public, something we are dedicated to doing every day."

* Across the entire park system, 900 permanent positions that currently are vacant will not be filled, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said Friday in a memo to the entire agency.

"In an organization with 15,000 permanent employees, 900 vacant jobs have a profound effect. Every activity will be affected. Some impacts will be immediate, others will accumulate over time," Director Jarvis said. "Fewer law enforcement rangers and USPP officers mean lower levels of protection and longer response times. Fewer maintenance personnel mean that parks may have to close facilities completely when breakdowns occur – and that the $12 billion maintenance backlog will continue to grow."

The memo did not, however, mention how many vacant positions the Park Service has been carrying in recent months.

Director Jarvis said the agency, system-wide, would see seasonal hirings drop by more than 1,000 employees, would furlough some staff in the U.S. Park Police, and would ban all non-essential travel.

"'Essential' travel includes only the following: travel that is critical for health and safety, and travel to attend training required to retain current, mission critical certifications – such as contracting warrants. International travel is cancelled," wrote the director.

Director Jarvis also noted that the most recent continuing resolution to fund the federal government expires March 27.

"We do not know how, or if, the debate on a new continuing resolution will impact the remainder of FY13 or the FY14 budget negotiations. For now, please assume that we will operate for the remainder of the year at the 95 percent spending level envisioned in your sequestration plans," he wrote.


The NPS has a choice, hire less or pay its employees less.

My belief is, and has been, that there is much waste in the government, from the $500 toilet seat to not turning the lights out when you leave the room and this budget cut was a long time in the making.

Sad to see it hit the park service, an area that I favor, but it had to happen, it just doesn't need to happen with a political slant, like closing the White House tours.

It is the American way to improvise or make due and if someone in management is creative we won't need to see the parks closed on Sunday or some closed altogether.

Here is a link to what seems to be a well balanced article about political pressures imposed upon the superintendent of Yellowstone. Once more, I note that all the pressures seem to stem from that good old root cause of $$$$$$$$$$ and a chorus of cut, cut, cut, cut --- but don't cut anything that will affect ME:

There was no "$500 toilet seat", ...jus'sayin' :-]

The Washington Post article on the "sequester" in Yellowstone was excellent. These are real people being hurt both in the public and private sector. It is unfortunate that the cuts did not start in Congress ( perhaps that is where the furlough's should start), and the so called waste of tax payer dollars did not start with the oil company subsides, etc, before hardworking lower income people and small business people were asked to take the hit.

I and hundreds, maybe even thousands, of mountain bikers would be happy to serve on a volunteer bicycle trail patrol to monitor conditions in the NPS front country and backcountry as a substitute for any ranger FTEs that are lost to the sequester and cannot do this service.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association already has a National Bike Patrol:

So does the East Bay Regional Park District in California. This was the original bicycle trail patrol in the United States. It was featured in Smithsonian magazine many years ago. I've been a volunteer patroller for 20 years and we do a huge amount of observing and reporting work and provide a large multiplier effect for the paid staff. I've done everything from search and rescue to responding to crime scenes to evacuating fire zones to checking on motor vehicles within park boundaries. We do this work day and night:

Of course the NPS would have to grit its teeth and overcome the predictable objections from PEER, NPCA, CPSR, etc., etc., about "wheeled locusts." :-) They'd probably offer to do the work themselves, but our experience with our hiking patrol is that the distances are too long for the hikers to be very effective.

My guess is the NPS will adopt some kind of aerial drone technology. (There's talk about the Forest Service doing this in the South San Juan Wilderness in southern Colorado. This huge Wilderness was down to a single ranger in 2011.) But a drone can't explain to a camper not to cut boughs, nor can it pick up litter. These are the kind of things we do.

I agree with Ron Mackie that the Washington Post article was good. One problem is that the sequester happened quickly—most people thought Congress and the President would reach a deal to avoid it—and it takes time for any institution, public or private, to make adjustments to budget losses. Even the bicycle patrol idea I mention above could not be implemented overnight; it would probably take a year.

Anyone remember the $330,000 two hole privy built back in May '96 at the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area???? It's earthquake proof!

Interesting. DEWA has had some bad floods since then. Anyone know if the privy also turned out to be flood proof?


Technically, NPS does not have a choice to pay employees less: unless congress changes the law, it is against the law for them to cut employees' pay (except by furloughing and giving unpaid leave days, and furloughed employees are not allowed to volunteer in parks on those days). There are federal GS rules about how different duties and skills map into the GS schedule of pay, and NPS already lowballs many positions.

The Park Service is pretty cheap (in a good way). Lots of folks want to work for NPS, so they can hire at the lowest plausible grade for many positions. Professional scientists (PhDs) are pretty much across the board 1 or 2 GS levels ($10-30K/yr) below what they would be in FWS or USGS, and even more below private sector wages. A large number of interpretive rangers are GS5s & GS7s with BA & MS degrees. I work with an acting chief of natural resources with a PhD who is a GS9, making just over $50K/yr in an expensive part of the country. Much of the "Washington Office" is actually in Colorado: office space is much cheaper, locality pay is a bit cheaper, travel to far flung parks is cheaper, and folks willing to work for less for NPS tend to like outdoor recreational opportunities (Cultural Resources and History are in the DC area). Even the parts of NPS that are top-heavy are top heavy with GS14s & GS15s, not SES.

Managers don't have that much flexibility: all the fine print congress put in the last appropriation bills that funded NPS still applies under the continuing resolutions.

Not trying to be harsh here but restructuring each parks administration with clear priorities established and an emphasis on consolidation would be a good start on getting a handle on where to make cuts. Not all every single program NPS does is essential or is the way NPS implements high priority programs sacrosanct. It's hard for me to fathom that within a $2+billion budget providing basic visitor services to the public apparently is the last priority and the first to be cut while preserving the overhead infrastructure is number one. If NPS managers can't find ways to restructure and streamline NPS core mission activities within the parks then they shouldn't be managers. The NPS was never intended to be a jobs program for the american people.

there's a long history of expensive outhouses in the National Park Service... here's another:

What is this, "I'll see your $330,000 outhouse and raise you a $1 million outhouse"?!?

Beyond that, sounds like a book in the making.

Drones patrolling trails. A very interesting idea. But of course they could talk to hikers. Just attach a loudspeaker.

Reminds me of a true story from many years ago when the Salt Lake City Police Department tried patroling with a couple of ultralight aircraft. One day a little boy failed to come home from school so the mother called the cops. An officer in an ultralight went looking and found a boy matching the description in a playground between the kid's school and home. The cop called the boy's name and told him to go home, right now. A few minutes later a wide-eyed little boy ran into his house all a-dither. His mother asked what had happened and the boy replied, "I was playing in the park and all of a sudden GOD told me to go home!"

And if that doesn't work, there can always be rockets attached to the drone.

Tomp2, thanks for the information. Lots of NPS locations are out in the country where lower pay might go further. Would that explain some of the pay delta? Also, isn't the NPS the major employer in many locales?

Technically, NPS does not have a choice to pay employees less: unless congress changes the law, it is against the law for them to cut employees' pay

Well, there is a good place to start. How ironic, an example of government playing too big a role in government.

I like:). Refering to Lee's post earlier.