By IRENE NOLAN
The National Park Service today announced changes to several visitor services made necessary by the parks’ budget.
In October, to re-open the government, Congress provided funds at Fiscal Year 2013 levels through January 15, 2014. Final funding for FY 2014 may not be resolved before then.
“Given our current budget realities and the uncertainty for the future, the National Park Service is exercising extreme caution in spending to ensure that available funding is directed towards the highest priorities,” said Outer Banks Group Superintendent Barclay Trimble.
The following operational changes will occur this fiscal year:
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Visitor Centers located on Ocracoke Island and the Fort Raleigh Visitor Center will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from December 2, 2013, through mid-March to early April 2014.
Lifeguard operations on all three lifeguarded beaches in the seashore will be discontinued for FY 2014.
Eight garbage dumpsters located adjacent to beach access ramps along Highway 12 will be replaced with smaller trash/recycling containers.
Temporary structures at Wright Brothers National Memorial will be removed, providing substantial savings on utility and maintenance costs.
Other measures include reducing purchases of supplies and equipment, decreasing staff travel and training, and postponing vehicle procurement. There is also a likelihood of delaying the hiring of vacant positions.
“We wish we did not have to reduce our visitor services, and we know a lot of people will be disappointed, but we had to make some difficult decisions regarding park operations and priorities,” Trimble said. “The current budget situation does not allow us, to have sufficient staff to keep the same number of hours and the degree of services as we have done in the past. We hope the situation changes and we will be able to return our visitor services to their former operating schedules in the future.”
In an interview on Tuesday evening, deputy superintendent Darrell Echols said that the park budget is being reduced 8 percent from fiscal year 2012.
Last year, he said, the budget for the Outer Banks Group was reduced by 5 percent and the fiscal 2014 year reduction is proposed to be another 3 percent.
“These reductions mean that we are going to have to change visitor services,” Echols said.
He said that six to eight permanent positions, including several law enforcement positions, will not be filled. Several seasonal positions are also at risk, he said.
“This is going to be the first year that we will reduce visitor services,” he said, since the park is running out of options for reducing the budget while keeping all visitor services in place.
The cost for lifeguards at three seashore beaches – Coquina, Buxton, and Ocracoke – is $200,000, he said.