By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal
WASHINGTON – Unless Congress passes a budget by March 1, sequestration will cut access for millions of visitors to America’s national parks, including the Natchez Trace Parkway, a parks advocacy group says.
According to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, “The specific impact of the sequestration meat-cleaver on America’s national parks is becoming clearer and even more alarming.”
Natchez Trace Parkway acting superintendent Dale Wilkerson said the Parkway still is adjusting its actual plans.
“Like every other federal agency, we are planning for the effects of sequestration should it happen,” he said.
The 444-mile roadway stretches through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
Wilkerson said he is hopeful that Congress and the White House can reach an agreement before March 1.
Sequestration will result in steep budget cuts, requiring many federally funded programs to cut hours of workers and facilities.
According to the CNPSR, the following cuts can be expected at national parks in the Southeast:
• The Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee will see a reduction in seasonal employees, causing the closure of 25 rest room areas one day a week, affecting more than 200,000 visitors.
“We would not be able to bring on as many seasonal employees and that would have an impact on visitor services,” Wilkerson said.
He reiterated that plans are still being considered and no final decision regarding cuts has been made.
The Natchez Trace Parkway hires 50 to 60 seasonal employees annually.
Law enforcement personnel would not be affected, Wilkerson said.
• The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina will close five campgrounds and picnic areas affecting more than 54,000 visitors. The reduction in staff will result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses for more than 35,000 vehicles per day on several heavily travelled routes in the Cades Cove District as well as the thoroughfares between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and between Gatlinburg and Cherokee, N.C.