Federal cuts carve positions from Crater Lake Park

CRATER LAKE — Ongoing effects from federal sequestration — automatic spending cuts that took effect earlier this year and are expected to continue in 2014 — may mean cutbacks in programs at Crater Lake National Park.

Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman said the ongoing automatic cuts created by sequestration and an expected 1 percent federal pay raise will reduce the park's budget by $100,000 to $150,000 in 2014, or 2 to 3 percent of the park's current operating budget of $5 million. Combined with previous cuts, the new cuts would mean the park's budget has been reduced more than $500,000 since 2012.

This year's sequestration cuts were handled by not filling some vacant positions that resulted from transfers or retirements. He said the next round will likely result in the continued closure of the Lost Creek Campground, eliminating most seasonal positions and halting nonessential snowplowing, which means the East Rim Drive would be required to melt on its own.

"You are likely to see a significantly reduced presence at the park," Ackerman said.

Future budget reductions at Crater Lake, Oregon's only national park, could result in cuts to permanent staff that might result in combining various jobs.

Ackerman said it's unknown if the ongoing impasse over the federal budget will result in another federal government shutdown in January. He said last summer's 16-day shutdown resulted in the loss of an estimated $15,000 to $25,000 in park entrance fees, and also impacted income to Xanterra, the park concessionaire that operates the Crater Lake Lodge and other park facilities, and the Crater Lake Trolley. Xanterra officials estimated the shutdown cost the company more than $300,000.

Ironically, the lost fees and visitation came during a year that, based on early figures, was among the busiest. Receipts from park entrance fees and Crater Lake Natural History Association outlets were higher than in previous years.

"I've never seen it so busy," Marsha McCabe, the park's chief of interpretation, said of last summer's visitation.

McCabe said the parking area by the administration building was opened to handle overflow parking in the Munson Valley area. At times, Rim Village was closed because its parking areas were filled.

She also lamented an impact of the federal shutdown, noting more than 1,200 school youths who had planned visits through the school-in-the-parks program were turned away — "That was one of the saddest parts of the closure." Efforts were made to fill openings when the park reopened, but not always successfully.

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