Sunday, March 24, 2013

Acadia National Park's Spring Opening Delayed By Budget Cuts

Spring will arrive a month later than normal at Acadia National Park, as budget cuts necessitated by the federal sequestration have forced park officials to delay opening roads and facilities.

In a bid to trim $390,000 from the park's $7.8 million budget, officials decided to extend the winter closure of park facilities for one month. Typically, the Park Loop Road and the Hulls Cove Visitor Center open on April 15. This year the Park Loop Road, including the Cadillac Summit Road, and Hulls Cove Visitor Center will not open until May 19. The Sieur de Monts Nature Center will not open until May 25.

Additionally, the cuts mean five permanent positions will not be filled this year, bringing to 23 the number of vacant permanent positions that funding reductions have forced the park staff to do without in recent years, park officials said in a release. On top of that, a dozen seasonal positions will not be hired this year, and 32 seasonal positions will have their appointments reduced between two and six weeks each.

The reduction imposed by sequestration is in addition to budget reductions realized in 2011 and 2012. To compensate for the decreased funding in 2011 and 2012, the park has reduced spending for travel, training, overtime and supply purchases. Additionally the park reduced the number of permanent employees, which left few options to compensate for the 2013 budget cuts. The only remaining alternative to achieve the 5 percent sequester cut is to reduce the level of visitor services that can be delivered this year.

Along with the delayed opening and staffing redutions, the number of free ranger-led programs will be reduced by 30 programs/week this year. Programs for which a fee is charged will continue unchanged from 2012 levels.

Seasonal staffing will be reduced across all operations. That means there will be fewer employees to provide visitor services and operate and maintain park facilities. As a result, there will be reduced hours of operation at the visitor center and Islesford Historical Museum; fewer school education programs; and fewer rangers to respond to emergencies, to provide visitor services, and to answer visitor questions.

Acadia officials say the direct impact to park visitors will be much less by opening facilities later in the season as compared to the alternative of closing facilities earlier in the fall. Visitation in April and May is approximately 220,000 visitors while visitation in September and October is 650,000.

No reopening in sight for Ellis Island

Iconic site damaged by Superstorm Sandy

The National Park Service announced that there is no projected reopening date for New York's iconic Ellis Island due to extensive damage it sustained during Superstorm Sandy last October.

This uncertainty comes days after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's announcement that the Statue of Liberty is set to reopen to the public by the Fourth of July.

Although there is little damage to the museum collection in the Immigration Building, there is significant damage to the infrastructure as a result of the storm, according to the National Park Service. During the storm, water filled the basement of the Immigration Building, and there was also significant damage to mechanical systems and the building's fire suppression system.

The National Park Service stated that it is "working hard to prioritize all the projects needed to reopen and will announce this information as soon as possible."

According to the National Park Service, Salazar stated that repairs to both Ellis Island and Liberty Island could cost as much as $59 million.

Located in Upper New York Bay, Ellis Island served as a gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892 until 1954. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened in 1990 and attracts 3 million visitors each year.