Monday, September 9, 2013

Sleeping Bear Dunes - Effects of budget sequestration

UPDATE:   The National Park Service has issued an update on the operating season for the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  It will now be open until OCTOBER 20th.  This means that you will be able to see the scenes shown below. 

The post was originally published back in April(?).

One of my favorite trips in Michigan is to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Sleeping Bear Dunes is part of the national park system.  Because of the across-the-board budget cuts enacted by the so-called "Sequestration" that went into effect March 1st, 2013, public access to Sleeping Bear will be greatly limited.  Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive will not open until Memorial Day weekend and will close after Labor Day on October 21st; previously this was open from mid-April through mid-November.  In my opinion the best time to go on the scenic drive was after the leaves had changed color in the Fall.  This usually occurs in late-September through early-October.  Some of the fall scenes that will no longer be available include these:

Glen Lake seen from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (October 2012)

Glen Lake seen from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (October 2010)

Glen Lake seen from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (2008)
North Bar Lake & Lake Michigan seen from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (October 2012)
North Bar Lake & Lake Michigan seen from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (October 2010)

North Bar Lake & Lake Michigan seen from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (October 2008)

The result of this budget cut is that you will be unable to see this part of the park when it is at its most spectacular.  Other parts of the park remain open, but for many people the Scenic Drive is Sleeping Bear Dunes.

So why does the park have to close the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive during its best season?  The budget Sequestration imposed budget cuts across all federal spending.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was required to reduce its annual budget by five percent.  About ninety-eight percent of its 2013 budget of $4,676,000 goes toward salaries and fixed costs such as utilities.  There simply is not $234,000 available to cut from the budget without reducing staff.  These cuts will eliminate 5 seasonal positions and shorten the duration of a further 22 seasonal positions.  Seasonal employees are responsible for such tasks as manning gates, leading tours, cleaning restrooms, picking up trash, and other many other tasks.

In addition to limiting access to the Scenic Drive, at most sites in the park restrooms will be closed until Memorial Day and will close after Labor Day and trash cans will not be emptied.  Restrooms and trash services at the visitor center in Empire and at campgrounds will have normal services.

In perhaps the biggest blow, ranger-led education programs will only be available between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  This cut will impact up to 10,000 school kids that annually take part in education program during the school year.  The funds to run these programs are gone.  

Also programs to monitor and protect endangered species such as the Piping Plover will be reduced, as will programs to monitor and control invasive species.

My wife and I love Sleeping Bear Dunes.  We have bought an annual visitors pass for the last half-decade and usually visit 3 or more times per year and plan an annual trip each October.  We will still go to Sleeping Bear Dunes, but one of the highlights of our year has been eliminated and there is nothing that we can do about it.

It is a shame that budget cuts imposed by politics and politicians will limit access to one of Michigan's greatest natural treasures during its most spectacular season.  This will have a negative effect on tourism throughout the northwest Lower Peninsula and will greatly impact local businesses that rely on summer and fall tourism to stay afloat.

So far, none of Michigan's other national parks including Isle Royale, Pictured Rocks, and Keewenaw National Historical Park have announced such drastic cuts to services.

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