Congress enacts additional $30 million cut to national parks; effect on Acadia unclear

The Acadia National Park Thompson Island information area remains closed for the winter as of Friday.
Kevin Bennett | BDN
The Acadia National Park Thompson Island information area remains closed for the winter as of Friday. Buy Photo
By Mario Moretto, BDN Staff
Posted March 22, 2013, at 12:49 p.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — On the heels of a 5 percent funding cut thanks to sequestration, Congress has reduced the operations budget of the National Park Service by another $30 million.

The additional cut was passed as part of a stop-gap spending bill to fund the government for another six months. The House passed the Senate version of the continuing resolution Thursday night, and it now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele said Friday morning that it wasn’t clear yet how much of the cut would be borne by Acadia, but said “it can’t be good.”

“If that’s $30 million nationwide, it will be several months before we find out what it actually means for Acadia,” Steele said. “It would be hard to give specifics at this point.”

The additional cut to the National Park Service comes just 21 days after the sequestration forced an automatic, permanent 5 percent cut to the country’s national park system. For Acadia, that meant a $390,000 reduction in federal funding.

That reduction forced Acadia to extend winter closures — including such popular areas as Cadillac Mountain, the Park Loop Road and the visitor’s center — for an additional month. Instead of opening the park completely on April 15 as usual, the park will not open areas closed during the winter until May 19.

The additional $30 million hit not only affects the day-to-day operations of national parks, but also makes “significant additional cuts to the National Park Service’s construction budget,” said Craig Obey, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association.

In a media release, Obey said the second round of cuts amounted to a congressional “snub” toward park visitors.

“It is hard to find any single government function that has as broad societal agreement among people of all political persuasions as the protection of our national parks,” he wrote. “But today’s irrational federal budget process seems incapable of meaningfully responding, other than to compound the problem.”

Steele said cuts from sequestration and this week’s continuing resolution are added to pain the park already was feeling from earlier reductions to funding and normal increases in operating costs.

“We’ve lost $1 million of our roughly $8 million budget in the past few years,” he said Friday. That meant a reduction in staffing, even before the broad cuts enacted this year. In the past, Steele said, the park absorbed the cuts by eliminating positions and year-round spending in order to preserve services in the summer months.

Now, Steel said, the cuts will affect visitors for the first time as the park delays opening and cuts ranger programs in half.

“It’s unfortunate we’re at this point, but we have very little choice,” he said.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/22/politics/congress-enacts-additional-30-million-cut-to-national-parks-effect-on-acadia-unclear/ printed on July 31, 2014