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More and More Parks Finding Going Tough, Financially


    Well, it's been a coupla weeks since National Park Service Director Fran Mainella uttered her belief that the national park system is "meeting the challenge" of maintaining parks and catering to visitors on a shoestring budget.
    And in those two weeks there have been stories and editorials from throughout the nation about the hardships parks are enduring in striving to meet that challenge.
    Here are some numbers I got from the folks at Rocky Mountain National Park, which along with Canyonlands National Park is a poster child Director Mainella points to for saving money by going through a "core operations analysis" to determine if parks are wisely spending their budgets.
    Like their peers at Canyonlands, Rocky Mountain officials were able to "find" $200,000 in savings they could spend elsewhere. How did they do that? Well, for starters, they promoted a division chief from within to fill a deputy superintendent position, which saved $105,000 by not filling the now vacant division chief job. And they merged a handful of other positions to save $72,200 and shut down the relatively lightly visited Lily Lake Visitor Center to save $36,000.


    Prudent decisions? Perhaps. Although the individuals who now have to handle, essentially, two jobs might not agree. Still, the savings allowed Rocky Mountain officials to hire some seasonal rangers, restore the normal operating hours at the Headquarters Visitor Center, and meet some other needs.
    Over at the Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia, officials are not exactly crowing about how they're coping with budget cuts. Park Superintendent Jim Dowd, whose budget totals $814,000, told the Macon Telegraph that his unit could be "40 percent in the hole" within five years if an anticipated budget freeze is implemented and he doesn't fire some of his employees.
    The budget woes could force Dowd to bring an end to interpretive programs as well as popular lantern-light tours of the ancient Indian mounds preserved by the monument, and might even force him to reduce the monument's hours.
    "This park has not done well compared to other parks in this region over the past 10 to 15 years when it comes to budget," the superintendent told the Macon Telegraph. "All the parks are screaming about cuts and shortages, but if you're already at the bottom and you got it cut, it seems a littler tougher than if you're on top."
    Expect more and more stories to surface in the weeks ahead, especially as the busy summer season arrives.
    If you travel to a park, share your thoughts on whether you think parks are indeed meeting the challenge. If you don't think they are, write Director Mainella and your congressional delegation to ask that the parks not be starved financially and allowed to wither on the vine.

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