Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sequestration affects Gulf Island National Seashore

Budget cuts at Gulf Islands will mean shorter hours for lifeguards, fewer ranger-led programs, partial closing of visitor centers and reduced grounds and facilities maintenance.

     The five percent cut in the Gulf Islands National Seashore FY 2013 budget imposed by the sequestration, "will be felt by our visitors and surrounding communities," said Dan Brown, superintendent of the park which includes units in Florida, Mississippi and several barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico.
     Brown said in a press release dated March 15 that while the park will not have to furlough any of the permanent staff to make up for the $359,000 gap in funding, ten fewer seasonal employees will be hired and several vacant permanent position will remain unfilled.
     The staffing cuts will mean, beginning April 7,  visitor centers will close two days a week, some restroom facilities will close and there will be shorter hours for lifeguards, fewer ranger-led programs and less grounds and facilities maintenance, Brown said.
     Also the visitor center at Ft. Massachusetts on West Ship Island will be closed.
     Three restrooms at Ft. Pickens and two at Santa Rosa/ Opal Beach will close.
     Visitors will be asked to take their garbage with them when they leave after visiting the park as trash cans will be eliminated at most locations.  When roads are closed because of storm-driven sand, it may take longer to open them as the park will no longer contract sand removal with outside firms.
     "Gulf Islands is still one of our country's crown jewels and we encourage people to come and enjoy their national park.  Our staff always strives to provide the best possible service and we ask for visitors' understanding as they encounter changes to some park operations," Brown said.
     With over 5 million annual visitors, Gulf Islands is one of the top 10 most frequented national parks in the country, exceeding Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.

     The regular hours of the visitor center at Davis Bayou, near Ocean Springs, not change (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) but the center will close Wednesdays and Thursdays.  For more information contact Gulf Islands at 850-934-2600 (FL) and 228-875-9057 (MS). 

     I spoke with Steve McCoy at Gulf Islands about the removal of the trash cans.  Reducing the number of trash cans has been an ongoing process in the park and he explained that there are very few trash cans left to remove.  Instead of using lots of smaller trash cans, park visitors have been encouraged over the years to use larger and centrally located Dumpsters.  These do not have to be emptied as often and the job is contracted out.  Also, a pack it in/pack it out trash policy has been in effect for several years and that has worked reasonably well, he said.


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