Sequestration Doubly Costly As Mammoth Cave National Park Losing Tour Revenues

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is being hit twice by the federal budget sequestration -- first by having to cut 5 percent from its budget, and again by lost revenues from cave tours that have been canceled due to lack of staff.

Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead said Tuesday that the park stands to lose about $300,000 in tour fees as she can't afford to hire seven seasonal interpretive rangers who normally lead the Grand Avenue and Snowball Room tours.

"So we will suspend those tours, and that will affect about 28,000 visitors, and will eliminate about 600 tours," she said during a phone call. “It’s a pretty big impact to us, because it’s actually kind of a double whammy because it also means that we don’t collect about $300,000 in fees. ... That’s where most of our funding is in the summer.”

The superintendent said other problems could come to light, so to speak, underground as the position of an electrician also will go vacant in a cost-cutting move.

“One of the things that we’re facing wtih sequestration is one of the positions that we have to lapse is an electrician position," said Superintendent Craighead. "On the surface we have 150 buildings that we have to keep with good electrical service, but underground we have 36 miles of distribution system, and several transformers and hundreds of lights. And all that you have to hike to to get to in most cases, some cases it’s a couple miles to get to where you need to go."

Also idled this coming season by sequestration is the Houchins Ferry, one of two ferries that cross the Green River in the park, she said.

"We usually open that (ferry) in March and run it through late fall, and we will not be opening that at all this year," said Superintendent Craighead. "For those users of it, they’ll have an extra drive (of about 30 minutes) to the nearest bridge. So it’s an impact on the local commuinty there."


If they can't get someone to conduct a tour for $500 a pop, there is something far more wrong here than sequestration.

I'm sure tour guides are not the only service funded by the $300,000. Seasonal interpreters have many duties other than just guiding tours. They serve at info desks, on roving assignments, evening programs, and more. The entrance fee money probably also helps cover clean up in the cave, and likely help cover the cost of maintaining the underground electrical and trail systems. A cut in tours, however, will be the most noticeable to the visiting public.

I don't buy it Lee. If they are generating 500 per tour that surely exceeds the incremental cost of doing the tour. To not do the tour would be foolish.

All this chicken little squawking makes one think there is some contest to see who can generate the biggest crocodile tears.

Yeah. But I'm afraid you win on the crocodile tears argument. Pretty hard to beat Boehner in that department. :-}

If I knew what you were talking about, I would respond. But I assume it is another of you personal attacks generated by your inability to intelligently discuss the point.

By God, ec, you are just the kind of person we need in parks, a real hard-headed businessman who will fix the NPS's budget problems just like that other famous businessman, George Bush, ran the government. For the good of the country's National Park System, quit what you are doing and sign on as an NPS employee. You have a headstart. You already know what it costs to run a tour at Mammoth Cave. Obviously, Superintendent Craighead doesn't.



I've been to Mammoth Cave twice, and from touring the caves, riding the ferry, and hiking Big Woods, I gained a precise understanding of the park's yearly operating budget.

If you are going to cut, then why cut a visitor service that is mostly, if not completley, self sustaining. Seems like a poor decisions that may have more to do with politics than budget.

If the superintendent had the authority, I bet she'd use the revenues from the tour fees to pay the salaries of the interpretive rangers. I suspect that she can't, though. If tour fees are like entrance fees, you can't pay (permanent) staff salaries out of them (a rule meant to ensure that fee demo $$ goes to identifiable projects that benefit the visitors, not merely offload normal costs to free up appropriated funding for other purposes). You can't obligate them (e.g., to someone's salary) until after they have gone to the region & the 80% sent back to the park, 1-4 months after collection, and they only go to specific approved projects with explicit justification in terms of visitor experience, not into general funding or a slush fund.

My impression is that NPS is trying to play this one straight down the line: the hiring freeze and travel ban affect everyone up to the director's office, parks have been warned not to shift costs among accounts and play budget games. [The sequester is not a 1-year temporary cut. If you cut maintenence to cover interp rangers, in a few years you start losing facilities.] Sometimes the rules meant to prevent budget gaming end up with perverse consequences, but the superintendent (and likely even NPS) doesn't have the authority to change the rules.

My understanding is that NPS _may_ receive delegated authority to approve seasonal and temporary hires (without individual approval from above the service), so parks that budget for seasonal rangers are likely to be able to hire at least some seasonals by this summer (not too helpful to parks where spring is the peak visitor season).


I hope you did gain a precise understanding of Mammoth Cave's operating budget because then you know how expensive it is to run a park for the visiting public. I was the superiintendent of Carlsbad Caverns. There are a lot of items in a park's operation's budget that aren't readily apparent to the average visitor. For instance, in a cave park, there are enormous costs involved in the lighting system and its maintenance. I haven't been to Mammoth Cave in a long time, so I don't remember if there is an elevator there, but running the two at Carlsbad involved considerable maintenance and electricity costs. Carlsbad does not run tours, but allows visitors to visit at their own pace. The cost for that goes up as additional rangers are necessary to prevent damage to cave speleothems.

Then there are restrooms to be cleaned and maintained, roads to be maintained, and maybe at Mammoth, occasionally plowed. There are always law enforcement costs to monitor parking lots. I have seen comments from time to time on NPT that the NPS ought to get out of the LE business. Very few local law enforcement agencies want to patrol parks and provide the basic services that NPS protection rangers do so in lot of places, if the NPS got out of the business, no one would be there to fill in behind.

There are costs involved in Search and Rescue and Emergency Medical Services. Parks in remote areas like Carlsbad have to provide these services for visitors. The city services are just too far away to react quickiy.

Parks maintain water systems, sewage treatment systems, trail systems, garbage pickup and other services that most of us get from the municipalities in which we live and for which we pay taxes.

Finally, there are administrative costs as the result of having employees and doing business: HR, contracting, concession management and the like.

Without trying to defend Superintendent Craighead's decision on what to cut and what not to cut, there are a couple things to consider: the sequester comes in with one half the fiscal year completed (a fiscal year for the Federal Government runs from September til the end of the following August). So the impact of the sequester are approximately double what they would have been had the sequester started in the first month of the fiscal year. Secondly, many of the costs outlined above are fixed. There is little that can be done to reduce them. That's why this is so hard.


Rick Smith...

Well said.

You already know what it costs to run a tour at Mammoth Cave.

No Rick, I don't know what the incremental cost of running a tour is. But I do know, if it is $500, there is something terrribly wrong. I also know that if it is less than $500 it is foolish to shut down the tours.

I also know the current admin is trying to scare people into believing millions (170 mil according to Maxine) are going to lose their jobs, services are being dramatically cut people will die ...... and they (the admin) are willing to lie about it.


People are losing their jobs; how many we can count up after.

Services are being cut.

Don't know about where you are, but here people don't lose their moral standing just by taking a federal job; it is one of the employers in town. I can put a name and a face to the individuals who are in fear of losing their jobs. Takes a bit of the blood lust out of your slashing when it becomes personal.

And you cite [1] the Moonie Times, ultra-conservative outlet [2] Weekly Standard, ultra-conservative outlet and [3] Newsbusters, ultra-conservative outlet, & a blog posted in the Post. Of the four, only Kessler's blog is known to equally skewer the right and the left. Not a stellar "objective" commentary on President Obama.

Once again Rick, you can't address the validity of the arguments so you attack the source. You expect the huffpo to report Obama's deceipt.

For what it's worth, I recall hearing/reading that federal agencies are required to give employees 30 days notice before they're furloughed, so perhaps we should wait and see what happens the first week of April...As for seasonal hires, well, if they're not hired, they're not hired, right? And to keep permanent employees on the job, seasonals likely will go first.

Well said, indeed, Rick. Good to hear from someone who has actual experience running a national park. (I assume the irony of my earlier post didn't go unnoticed.)

Rick Smith, thank you for your informative comment on dealing with budget issues in the parks. I must agree, it can get very complicated, doubly so when congress is having difficulty getting any kind of agreement on what the budget should be. It creates a lot of extra work for the parks, is tough on the employees and the visitors also get the short end of the stick. It truly is a shame to see this happening, and the people who are going to get hurt the most are the ones who can least afford it. Have seen it several times now over the last 50 years, it is a terrible waste of human time and effort let alone the lack of respect shown to the vast majority of these competent and decent men and women park employees.

As a couple of others have commented, the park can't simply take money collected from tours and put those dollars right back into hiring the seasonal employees needed to conduct those tours.

There are strict limits on how fee revenue can be used by parks and only 80% of the money is returned eventually to the park. Individual parks don't have a "checking account" where they can simply deposit and withdraw collected funds to use as needed. Those are for the most part restrictions imposed to satisfy politicians who are more interested in bean-counting than efficiency.

Tell me, could the "Bubble Effect" be in play here? I have for years raised the issue of the big picture connectedness of the economy and the parks but I tell you in the real world outside the bubble economic issues concerning the privarte sector will come down on the Parks but always later than everyone else in the private sector (middle class) employees. Rick B you are, respectfully, the poster child for the Bubble you've referred in earlier posts. I said respectfully, so I would expect the same from you (giving you a break).

Well Jim, there-in lies one of the problems. If the system is set up such that money generating programs (tours) are cancelled even though the generate more money than they cost then the system is broken.

Its like our Post Office in Beckenridge. The Post Office doesn't deliver to physcial addresses, only to PO Boxes. If a package is sent to a physical address, even though the PO has a data base matching physcial addresses, they send it back to the sender. Why? Is it cheaper to send it back than to look up the address? No, but the local post mistress gets charged if she hires someone to lookup the address. Since sending it back shows up in someone elses budget, that is what she does even though it is terribly uneconomic.

The problem is not the lack of funds, it is terrible mismanagement.

TA, with every concievable bit of respect, you have no clue in hell who or what I'm a poster child for.

By the way, ec, per the University of Google, 'deceit' is only spelled 'deceipt' on You could even check it in the Urban Dictionary for a more precise statement.

One again Rick, rather than address the issue , you run and hide, this time behind spelling.

If any attempt to honestly explain the NPS budget issues is branded as being in the "bubble wrap", then I give up. We are simply dealing with people who don't want to listen.


Rick Smith - I read the wiki on that bubble thing that seems to have become fetishized by some. It would seem to apply equally to those who only get their reading from Fox News, Free Republic, Red State, etc., as to those who only get their reading from MSNBC, Jon Stewart, HuffPo, etc. And all I've seen of it over the past few days is the label being used as a stick to poke others in a quasi geekcool buzz word way.

Semantically, it is null.

Rick (s),

Yet again, you ridicule the source rather than address the issue. After all it is the best way to hide.

As one who hasn't used the phrase "bubble wrap" I ask, does it really make sense to cancel a tour that raises $500 if it cost less than $500 to conduct?


Help me out here. In order to grant your premise that it "costs less than $500 to conduct", please tell me the overhead figures for the park for that same time. Show your work and list all details no matter how small.

Let me know when you have specifics. No shoulds, shouldn't's, or wild ass guesses. How many light bulbs and how much wire and how many electricians to screw them in, and all under the budget constraints you budget-chainsaw people are forcing in on us for our own good.

And please do chose credible sources.

Kurt, I applaud you and your site far more than most can realize (at the moment). You are a treasure! There's an element of transparency here that is not possible in most of the media. The treasure that many hold for these wild places described on the pages of the Traveler really do hold standing over the crap political discourse that the country is wallowed in. Humbling is the ultimate standing in my frame of reference and it's the king in my book. Thank you!!! With that, Rock On! With that, I don't think anyone can speak in the same paragraph the names of Obama and Teddy Roosevelt in the same paragraph with any common ground. One lived for the experience of these wild places while the other probably yearns for the days of smoking pot in his Hawaiian Chum(?) gang. When one purposefully heads into the most remote places of North and South America and the other secludes himself in the poshest elements of Hawaii, Florida and the ultimate reaches of AF1 around the globe, could there be any more drastic comparisons? This guy is not someone that has any connection (but empty words) to those that value what most on the Traveler value, I believe. Those are my thoughts (after two good micro-brews), respectfully!

President Obama signed legislation elevating Pinnacles National Monument to Pinnacles National Park. The monument was established by Theodore Roosevelt.

That was easy. Dayton Duncan does it, too:

Rick Smith, hopefully I won't confuse you with the other Rick:). Budget issues (reality) confronting NPS are different from the Rick B. Bubble (You coined and defined the term, friend (If that doesn't offend). My guess is that NPS is being used as a political tool like so much of what this bunch does. Perhaps one of the most beloved agencies in the Federal Bureocracy it's used for political purposes to punish the citizens into compliance. Not a very nice bunch we have elected. Rick B., I can only pen you as a poster boy by what I've seen posted on the Traveler. Like to know the rest of the story but this site probably would not be the place.

please tell me the overhead figures for the park for that same time.

Rick, you clearly have no understanding of economics or finance. The question here is not "overhead", it is incremental cost. The overhead is there whether the tours are conducted or not. The question is, what is the INCREMENTAL cost. Do they collect more in revenue than the tour cost to conduct. If you can document the tour legitimately cost more than $500 to conduct, I will concede the point. I find it hard to believe that is the case.

justinh, can you tell me when the last time (or the first) that this Pres. slept under the stars, rafted a river, climbed a peak, contracted Giardia or was completely humbled by ANYTHING?

Beats me. But that doesn't really have anything to do with my post.

Sorry ec. You made the wild assed accusation, and haven't backed it up.

You are the one who made it appear that you know more than the park Superintendant who has to sign the letters going out denying seasonals their hoped for jobs, and who has to look in the faces of her employees every day at staff meetings and know that she is being forced to do things that will hurt the real people sitting in front of her, because politicians can't get their shit together.

TA - not that it is germane to the NPT, but this man has two daughters and an outstanding wife - he gets humbled every day.

Justinh, the thought that Obama and Teddy Roosevelt could be mentioned in the same sentence or in the same universe of thought was more than I could stomach. Words have very little value anymore if that's the case. Just me I suppose...

vacuous twaddle....

. . . yup.

Closing time.

Rick B, with $1.4 Billion in vacations, attendents, PR specialists and the fawning press even Rodman could appear as a fine diplomat.

Teddy is an American hero for those that actually get into these wild places and connect (Not just the parks).

BTW, Add Hominy is what I do to my eggs, so buggar off.

I am sorry that I made an error in my above post. The Federal fiscal year, of course, begins October 1 and closes September 30 of the following year. My apologies.


OK Rick - Say you are right that the incremental cost is more than $500- which is hard to fathom (a four hour tour at $25 bucks an hour - where is the other $300). That would mean the park isn't losing a thing from shutting down the tours. It might drop $300,000 in tour revenue but would save even more in incremental cost.

Either way, a basic understanding of economics and finance shows the crocidle tears are unwarranted.

As to your super sending out letters or looking into the faces at staff meetings, employers in the private sector do this every day - and particularly have so over the last 6 years. Although currently its more along the lines of, "we are cutting your hours because we can't afford ObamaCare" or "we aren't hiring more so we stay under the ObamaCare limit", or "we are cutting your insurance because we can't afford it any more". (hope MSN isn't too conservative a source for you LOL)

Oh and here is one from that "right-wing" huffington post"

I’m going to go far out on a limb here and suggest that maybe we all – me included – need to do some self inspection.

It is very easy to use an electronic board like this in an attempt to appear to be an instant expert on any subject under the sun or moon. It is especially so when able to hide behind the wall of anonymity and thus avoid any personal accountability for what we may write.

It is far too easy to cast critical aspersions on one like Superintendent Craighead who has the courage or whatever it takes to try to keep a place like Mammoth Cave operating in the face of political bloodlust in a totally dysfunctional Congress and ineffective administration. It’s too easy to point fingers at others who dare to disagree. It’s easy to criticize her decisions and actions when we don’t have full knowledge of what went into them, or when we don’t have the budget before us. It might different if we could take that budget, examine it carefully and then make an honest effort to see where and how it could be improved. Condemnation is much easier than construction.

We have a mess right now. Our national parks have frequently been used in the past by others both inside and outside government as political pawns in efforts to raise discord within the ranks of those who treasure them. That’s happening again, and it’s terribly unfortunate. It’s essential that we try to look behind the smokescreens and discern the reasons for these political actions. I believe that if we do, we’ll find the root cause is always money. Yet aren’t there some things within our parks that are far more valuable than anything money can buy?

Are we forgetting that despite some strong differences of opinion, our opinions are just opinions? Are we forgetting that, above all, we should be Americans first – and Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives or moderates a distant second? Traveler is a wonderful website that can provide not only enjoyment of our parks, but also has great potential to be a sounding board for constructive ideas and maybe even a way to find some solutions to perplexing challenges. Are we using it for that or not?

Too many Americans in our currently divided nation are doing nothing more than acting like my four-year old grand-daughter does sometimes when she cannot understand why she can’t have her way — NOW!

Could it be time to grow up?