Natl. Park Service Trying To Minimize Impact On Visitors, Supt. Watts Says
BY O.J. EARLY
As departments of the federal government brace nationwide for the impact of the mandated 5 percent budget cuts related to sequestration, the National Park Service is feeling the financial squeeze.
Reports indicate that visitors to national parks from Yellowstone to Cape Cod should expect roads to be opening later, the closing of visitor centers, and a thinning of seasonal workers.
Locally, the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is one of many Park Service sites feeling the budget pressure, Superintendent Lizzie Watts said earlier this week.
The Andrew Johnson site is the only entity in Greene County that operates under the National Park Service.
"All park managers and staff are trying to minimize the cuts as much as we can," Watts said Tuesday. "But there is an impact with a 5 percent cut."
For the Greeneville site, the budget cuts mean at least three things: mowing at the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery will start later, the cemetery will receive less general maintenance, and an administrative spot currently vacant will not be filled.
"We are going to lose a permanent position in our adminstrative ranks," the superintendent said.
That position was responsible, among other things, for handling payroll and greeting visitors who came to the site's headquarters, located below the cemetery, Watts explained.
The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site maintains the Andrew Johnson Homestead, a visitor center and the cemetery. All of those places attract many visitors, boosting the local economy, Watts said.
"It is a benchmark for tourism," she said. "We draw in [annually] more than 60,000 people."
Late last week, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis sent a memo to park supervisors, including Watts, explaining that major cuts would be implemented this year.
Among them: 1,000 less seasonal workers will be hired in 2013, according to a report in USA Today. In 2012, the National Park Service employed 10,000 seasonal workers, the newspaper reported.
"For us, we tried to minimize [the impact] for the visitors as much as possible," Watts said.
"It will be a challenge, but we will do the best we can do to minimize it as much as possible and still be able to preserve this history for future generations. That's our mission."
The sequestration budget cuts are being felt across the U.S.
As reported Monday by the Charlotte Observer, six areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park won't be open in 2013 as a result of the sequestration-related budget reductions.
Two of those sites, Look Rock Campground and Picnic Area and the Abrams Creek Campground, are in Tennessee, the newspaper reported.
In 2011, national park tourism accounted for $530 million flowing into Tennessee's economy, according to the national parks website.
Nationwide, around 279 million people visited national parks in 2011, the last year for which figures are available.