Despite sequester, the show must go on at National Parks

Dick Uliano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON — As surely as the pink buds pop open there will be a National Cherry Blossom Festival this spring. And despite across-the-board federal spending cuts expected to kick in Friday, the National Park Service offers assurances there will be summer concerts on the grounds of the Capitol and there will be Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall.

But that doesn’t mean it will be business as usual for these events under the so-called sequester.

“We do believe every one of those are going to be impacted in some way…we are absolutely looking at how we can pull these things off,” says Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service.

Jarvis says there could be fewer side events to the main celebrations, perhaps fewer trash pickups or fewer park rangers on duty.

From his office at the Department of Interior, where he oversees 398 national parks, 80 million acres, 20,000 employees and 140,000 volunteers, Jarvis rejects any criticism that his agency might be exaggerating the impact of automatic spending cuts.

“We’re not playing politics here. This is real to us,” he says.

Jarvis says each national park, including in our area, the National Mall, Great Falls Park, Rock Creek Park and Wolf Trap, will experience a 5 percent budget cut under sequestration.

For the park service, the cuts could not come at a more critical time of the year.

“March is really when we begin to gear up,” Jarvis says. “This is when we open up the campgrounds, this is when we restart and test our water systems, this is when we reopen the hotels, clean up the debris from the winter, just like you would clean up your yard.”

This is also the time of year when the National Park Service hires seasonal employees, but Jarvis says sequestration will put off hiring and delay much of that work.

The park service currently has a hiring freeze and Jarvis estimates that, because of the sequester, it will make do with about 3,000 fewer workers, including full-time permanent employees, seasonal workers and part-time workers who are subject to routine furloughs based on the season.

No national parks are expected to close, but Jarvis says some visitors centers will. He pointed to the Province Lands Visitor Center on Cape Cod as an example.

“Absolutely you will see the impact when you go these parks,” Jarvis says.

Cutbacks in staff could also mean fewer activities in parks. To ensure public safety, some ranger programs — like guided hikes — could be curtailed.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jarvis anticipates that a number of “contact stations” will not open, which will result in longer distances between restroom facilities.

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