With a second phase of budget cuts set to kick in in January, officials at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California have announced reductions in visitor center hours through the winter.
The park's Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, with the exception of the vestibule and restrooms, will be closed to the public December 1 through March 31 due to the ongoing budget concerns.
When the government shutdown ended, Congress provided funds to operate the parks through January 15, with final funding to be resolved after that, park officials said in a release.
"This decision was not made lightly, but was necessary in an effort to reduce costs associated with keeping the visitor center open and staffed during the winter," said Park Superintendent Darlene M. Koontz. "Alternatives to closing the visitor center were analyzed. However, faced with the continuing budget uncertainty, hard decisions had to be made to ensure that the park can provide services to winter visitors while maintaining adequate funding in reserve for summer when our visitation is highest."
The visitor center's closure will have downstream ramifications, as both the Lassen Association bookstore and Lassen Café and Gifts will be closed during this time and so will lose sales revenues.
The road to the visitor center will remain open with limited parking. The plowing of the road will occur following each storm period. Be aware the road will be closed during times of severe weather.
Visitors planning a trip to Lassen should check the current road status before traveling to the park, and it is highly recommended that all visitors, especially backcountry travelers, are aware of the projected weather conditions and snow levels during your visit to the park.
Consider stowing a shovel, extra blankets and tire chains in your vehicle as road conditions can deteriorate quickly. An emergency telephone is located in the Kohm Yah-mah-nee vestibule. Overnight visitors are required to obtain a wilderness permit before entering the backcountry, also available in the vestibule.
"We ask for understanding as people encounter changes to park operations and encourage visitors to explore other areas of the park, including Manzanita Lake," said Superintendent Koontz.
This year, ranger-led snowshoe walks will be offered to the public in the Manzanita Lake area on Saturdays and Sundays January 11 through March 23, weather permitting. Join a ranger for a one to two-mile adventure exploring winter ecology and Lassen's geologic history. Visitors should meet the ranger outside the Loomis Ranger Station on the plaza at 1 p.m. and come prepared for a range of winter conditions. Dress in layers, carry food and drinking water. A limited number of snowshoes will be available for a $1 donation.
Visitor services will continue to be provided through the park's website and over the telephone.
"Whether planning your overnight backcountry trip or a day of family fun on the nearby sledding hill, you can still get the information you need from our park rangers over the telephone, by email, or the park website and social media," the superintendent said.
To re-open the government, Congress provided funds at Fiscal Year 2013 levels through January 15; final funding for Fiscal Year 2014 will not be resolved before then. Given the continuing fiscal uncertainty, the National Park Service will exercise extreme caution in spending to ensure that available funding is directed to the highest resource priorities and serves the most visitors.
The winter closure of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center will reduce the cost of winter operations by approximately $43,000. The savings will be realized through a reduction in utilities, personnel, supplies, snow removal operations and fuel. Lassen Volcanic will evaluate the effectiveness of the closure at the end of the winter season and conduct a cost benefit analysis to help guide decisions in future years.
During the four months the visitor center will be closed, the park sees on average 5,300 visitors, or approximately 44 visitors a day. The majority of Lassen's visitors come to the park in the summer months, with more visitations on a single day in July than most winter months. Visitation to the visitor center during the winter months of December, January, February, and March has been low with average monthly visitation totals for the past three years being 1,100 / 1,700 / 1,500 and 1,000 respectively.
For information regarding ranger-led programs, backcountry permits, and weather and road conditions visit the park website at www.nps.gov/lavo or call the park at (530) 595-4480, daily, from 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.