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Sequester Smacks Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway

PHOTO: April will bring the blooms of Redbuds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to federal budget cuts under the sequester, 3 campgrounds, 2 picnic areas and 1 horse camp will not open this summer. Photo credit: Public Domain

PHOTO: April will bring the blooms of Redbuds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to federal budget cuts under the sequester, 3 campgrounds, 2 picnic areas and 1 horse camp will not open this summer. Photo credit: Public Domain


March 15, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Federal budget cuts mean you may have to revise those summer vacation plans.

The sequester is leading to closures and cutbacks on services offered at places such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains.

That's because the National Park Service is among the areas that got hit with the automatic spending cuts that began to take effect this month.

Don Barger, Southeast regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, says the impact will be felt since there was little-to-no wiggle room before.

"When paying for staff and fixed costs take up about 90 percent of your budget and you get a cut of 9 percent in your spending authority for the next six months, you don't have a lot of choices,” he says. “So, that's why we're seeing a whole lot of facilities that need to be closed, that can't be maintained or can't be staffed."

Overall, the National Park system is said to support 250,000 jobs in the country, with an annual economic impact of $30 billion.

In addition to the impact on those who want to get out and enjoy time in the great outdoors, Barger says the forced cutbacks for the National Park Service will actually end up costing more in the long run.

"The entire National Park Service budget, to run the entire system, is one-fourteenth of 1 percent of the federal budget,” he says. “And it's an economic generator. These mindless across-the-board cuts will cripple one of the few consistent generators of economic activity for many regional and local economies."

Since each park across the country is different with different offerings, Barger says how the sequester will affect them will vary.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the sequester means three campgrounds, two picnic areas and one horse camp will be closed.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited unit of America's national Park System, more than 20 seasonal ranger positions have been cut.

"They have 14 visitor contact centers up and down the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Barger says. “That runs from the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, all the way down to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. And so as a result, half of those visitor centers are going to have to be closed during this tourism season."

On Thursday, a group of U.S. Representatives urged Speaker John Boehner to bring a bill to repeal the sequester to the House floor for a vote.



John Michaelson, Public News Service - TN