Impact of budget cuts will be felt as parks’ busy season approaches

Staff reportMay 19, 2013 

Families will have to delay plans to stay at Cougar Rock Campground. Opening of the Mount Rainier National Park campground has been delayed until June 27 instead of the traditional Friday before Memorial Day.

BRUCE KELLMAN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER FILE

Managers at Mount Rainier National Park last week reiterated what impacts sequestration will have on park operations this summer.

Effective March 1, the park was required to reduce its annual operating budget for the 2013 fiscal year by 5 percent. The park must absorb this cut between now and Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Mount Rainier’s operating budget last year was $11.35 million. Now, the park must operate on $10.7 million. This is in addition to more than $500,000 in operating budget cuts absorbed by the park since 2010. To meet the new budget target, the park has taken several steps:

Staffing reductions: More than a dozen permanent positions are vacant out of about 110 full- and part-year positions. Several of these positions will not be filled this fiscal year or next.

Ohanapecosh Visitor Center: It will not open this summer. The closure will impact 60,000-85,000 visitors during the 130 days it normally would be open this summer. The closure also means the elimination of formal interpretive programs and informal roving interpretation in the Ohanapecosh area — about 400 visitor programs in total. Uniformed presence also will be reduced at Grove of the Patriarchs and Box Canyon. The restrooms outside the visitor center will remain open.

Ohanapecosh Campground: The campground will close two weeks earlier, on Sept. 29 instead of Oct. 14.

Cougar Rock Campground: The season has been shortened by six weeks. By opening June 27 instead of May 24, and closing two weeks earlier (Sept. 29 instead of Oct. 14), the park would impact the least number of visitors and be able to wait until more of the snow is melted before taking on clearing activities. The delayed opening also enables an early start on a power line replacement project.

Carbon River contact station: The number of seasonal fee collectors will drop from three to two. This reduction will diminish the hours the contact station can be staffed, reducing availability of information, trip planning services, general assistance and fee collection.

OLYMPIC CUTS

At Olympic, the park is dealing with a cut of $640,000 from the park’s $12.87 million annual operating budget — to $12.23 million. While most park facilities will remain open, some campgrounds, roads and visitor centers will open late, provide fewer services or remain closed.

Here are some of the key changes:

Staircase Campground: Open for primitive camping (pit toilets and no running water). Drinking water and flush toilets will be activated by Saturday.

Deer Park: The opening of Deer Park Road is dependent on natural snowmelt because the road will not be plowed. The Deer Park Road and campground will open when and if the winter snowpack melts enough to allow opening.

Hurricane Ridge: The last 11/2 miles of Hurricane Ridge Road, which leads to the Hurricane Ridge picnic area and Hurricane Hill trailhead, will be plowed and is expected to open by mid-June. The opening of Obstruction Point Road is dependent on natural snowmelt because the road will not be plowed.

Elwha Campground: It is open for primitive camping (pit toilets and no running water), but running water and flush toilets will not be available this year.

Lake Crescent: The La Poel Picnic Area will remain closed this year.

Forks Information Center: The Park and Forest Information Center is open Fridays and Saturdays. This summer, beginning June 19, the center will be open Thursday through Sunday — not daily.

Quinault Rain Forest: The seven-site North Fork campground will remain closed this season, and the campground’s two portable toilets will be removed. The Graves Creek Road and campground are open, but running water and flush toilets will not be available at the campground this year.

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