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Sequester Smacks Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway

By Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC

ASHEVILLE - Federal budget cuts mean you may have to revise those summer vacation plans.

The sequester is leading to some closures and cutbacks on services offered at places like the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains. That's because the National Park Service is among the agencies that got hit with automatic spending cuts that began to take effect this month.

According to Don Barger, Southeast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, the effect will be felt sharply, 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," Barger declared.

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 effect on those who want to get out and enjoy time in the great outdoors, Barger said, the forced cutbacks for the National Park Service will actually end up costing more in the long run. He stated that the NPS budget to run the entire system is one-fourteenth of one percent of the federal budget and is 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," Barger warned.

Since each park across the country is different with different offerings, Barger said, the ways 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.

Furthermore, he said, "They have 14 visitor contact centers up and down the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, 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.

More information is at NPS.gov.