Budget cuts could hit park


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park could take a sizable hit to its operations if Congress allows across-the-board, 5 percent budget cuts to go into effect at multiple government agencies on Friday.

Facilities, equipment and trail maintenance, as well as the number of school field trips, could all see reductions as part of the planned sequestration cuts, said park Superintendent Cindy Orlando.

“Until Friday, we won’t really know the full extent of what we’ll be dealing with,” she said. “Things are constantly changing. There are all kinds of possibilities, but we’re hopeful that they won’t come to fruition. … Basically, we’re preparing a contingency plan in the case that it does.”

Last month, Park Service Director John Jarvis asked superintendents to show by Feb. 11 how they would absorb the 5 percent funding cuts.

For Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, that 5 percent comes out to about $365,000 that must be trimmed from the annual budget of $7.3 million. First and foremost, the park will look to find savings by not filling any open permanent positions.

Such positions include the park’s educational specialist, who works to organize school visitations, a number of trail maintenance workers and laborers, as well as an executive assistant position in Orlando’s office.

“It would be reckless to try to hire for any of those positions if this goes through,” she said.

The park will also see a reduction in supplies and equipment, and could eliminate any nonessential contracts that could be held off.

“There will be other programmatic things, but not positions and people. The park is a very complex operation, it’s not just what you see when you come in and take a tour. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work. … My goal is to protect our existing employees, and to provide for the safety of the public,” Orlando said.

She added that the park anticipates it will be able to rely on its strong network of volunteers, including the Friends of Hawaii Volcano National Park, to weather the budget cuts.

Other parks will also experience difficult cuts, some of which could harm resources or even provide fewer protections for visitors.

At Yosemite National Park in California, for example, park administrators fear that less frequent trash pickup would potentially attract bears into campgrounds.

The cuts will be challenging considering they would be implemented over the next seven months — peak season for national parks. That’s especially true in Yellowstone, where the summertime crush of millions of visitors in cars and RVs dwarfs those who venture into the park on snowmobiles during the winter. More than 3 million people typically visit Yellowstone between May and September, 10 times as many as the park gets the rest of the year.

“There’s no fat left to trim in the Park Service budget,” said John Garder of the nonprofit parks advocacy group the National Park Conservation Association. “In the scope of a year of federal spending, these cuts would be permanently damaging and save 15 minutes of spending.”

In 2011, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park welcomed more than 1.3 million visitors, who spent close to $97 million on the Big Island, according to a report issued Tuesday as the budget debate continued in Congress.

According to the release, that spending impacted a total of 1,177 jobs on Hawaii Island.

The cuts would impact the park and the various other businesses that depend on the park just as the island’s tourism industry is making a comeback, Orlando said, but regardless of how things shake out, she conveyed her assurances that employees at the park would work to keep Hawaii Island’s attractions open to the public.

“We still want people to come here and have that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.

The Associate Press contributed to this article.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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