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3/19/2013 9:49:00 AM
Sequestration cuts to affect Grand Canyon employees more than visitors
Visitors to the park could see longer lines during the summer, caused by a hiring freeze of seasonal Park Service employees. Clara Beard/WGCN
Visitors to the park could see longer lines during the summer, caused by a hiring freeze of seasonal Park Service employees. Clara Beard/WGCN

Clara Beard
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

GRAND CANYON, Ariz.- In the next seven months, an estimated 3.3 million people will visit Grand Canyon National Park. Most of them will likely experience changes put in place by park officials because of federal budget cuts - sequestration - but they'll be less noticeable than previously predicted.

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said initially, he didn't realize how much of a ripple effect news of sequestration would have in outlying communities and businesses.

"I didn't realize negative press would affect visitors, but it just does." Uberuaga said. "They had the Grand Canyon as having a delayed opening. We were getting calls from concessionaires, the chamber, saying, 'hey, we are having people cancel their reservations. Is it really going to be that bad?'"

The answer is no, Uberuaga said. Grand Canyon National Park was able to make all sequestration cuts internally, but visitors will still experience some minor changes.

"The main mission of the park is to take care of the visitor and to protect the resources, so when you cut a million dollars out of a program, it's going to impact the visitor," Uberuaga said. "What I tried to do is minimize them and try to take what we call an internal hit."

Park officials had to cut around 1.1 million out of the park's $21 million budget - or five percent of their total budget. The cuts will remain in place until Congress comes to a budget agreement.

"Here we are, five months into the fiscal year and we still don't have any firm knowledge on what our final appropriations for the year are, so we are proceeding with caution," Uberuaga said.

To start, Uberuaga said officials in Washington directed him to freeze hiring for vacant permanent positions for the next seven months. By doing so, park officials saved around $500,000. Those positions ranged from truck drivers to mechanics to IT technicians.

The park also eliminated all employee travel, saving $60,000. They cut $35,000 of non-essential overtime. Officials also saved $200,000 on unnecessary purchases and halted all employee recognition events, cutting $65,000 from the budget.

The cuts brought the Park Service to 90 percent of their total target.

The Park Service cut the remaining $105,000 from the budget by eliminating seasonal staff positions. Visitors can expect longer lines, and less interpretive programs as a result.

Also a cutback on janitor staff and clean-up crews will affect bathroom and overall park cleanliness.

"In summary it comes down to fewer supplies, less equipment, we're not traveling, no more overtime and supervisors are dealing with less resources and it's hard to have it not impact employee morale," Uberuaga said.

The South Rim visitor center will stay on winter hours instead of switching to summer - a two-hour difference - affecting about 500,000 visitors.

Travel cutbacks will affect environment education ranger outreach programs.

"There will be 10,000 less students contacted this spring and summer because we've called all of those environmental education outreach rangers back," Uberuaga said.

On the North Rim, park officials had to scale back interpretive programs to half.

Public Affairs Officer Maureen Oltrogge said that because sequestration could potentially go on for another 10 years, it's impossible to determine the overall effect it will have on the park.

"The longer it goes on and the more crowded the park gets, the more people will see the reduction in services," she said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Article comment by: To To Not Surprised

I would love to apply...
- good pay
- paid vacation
- good health care

....and I don't really have to work very hard...cake jobs....

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Article comment by: Bobby B

Good article with lots of info on what to expect. I suggest a follow-up with Mr. Uberuaga in a month or two to see how it's going and what kind of customer complaints are being received.

Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Article comment by: To Not Suprised

If you think they are all overpaid and underworked, why not apply. I'm sure you would fit right in.

Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Article comment by: Not Suprised

I am not surprised - there is so much fat in the Govt - the forcasts of doom and gloom with the relatively modest budget reductions were lies aimed at protecting overpaid and underworked govt employees

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