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February 22, 2013

In this June 2005 file photo, bikers cruise along a path while kayakers set off by Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park in Maine. The National Park Service is preparing for large cuts. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

Facing cuts, Acadia outlines potential effects

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Acadia National Park would consider cutting permanent and seasonal jobs, closing its nature center, shortening the season at the visitor's center and slashing the number of summer interpretive programs in response to the March 1 cuts looming in the federal budget.

Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent at the park, said Friday that a cut of even 5 percent to the park's proposed $7.8 million operating budget for 2013 would mean a loss of about $390,000.

"There's no easy way out of this," he said.

Bobinchock said the park hopes to minimize any negative impact on park programs and visitors.

Likely to be lost would be a position for an air and water quality specialist, responsible for record-keeping on 27 rivers and streams, Bobinchock said.

That would result in a "data gap" that could not be undone, he said.

In addition, a staff position for maintenance of the park's website also would probably go unfunded, which he described as significant blow, given that more than 4.5 million people sought information about the park online last year.

The 47,000-acre park hosts 2.5 million visitors a year, 92 percent between May and October.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Park Service Director Jon Jarvis last month asked superintendents to detail how they would absorb the 5 percent funding cuts imposed under the sequestration mechanism Congress adopted to trim spending.

A memo obtained by the Associated Press gave insight into how some of the nation's 398 parks planned to respond to the potential budget cuts.

"I remain optimistic," said Bobinchock, noting that the national parks have gone through "the sequestration exercise" before, when Congress faced an initial Dec. 31 deadline for making decisions about trimming spending.

"It's something we're very concerned about," said Stephanie Clement, conservation director with the Friends of Acadia in Bar Harbor, a nonprofit group that advocates for the park.

"I imagine that there would be some sort of trickle-down effect," on the local economy and seasonal businesses, said Sean Bunnell, manager of Geddy's Restaurant on Main Street in Bar Harbor.

Bar Harbor Town Manager Dana Reed was reluctant to speculate on the impact. "We really can't say. But it would really be too bad if the public thought the park was closed" -- even for a few days, as it was during an earlier federal budget crisis, he said.

Clement said national parks face financial problems that go beyond the immediate threat of the cuts because federal funding has not kept up with the costs of adequate maintenance.

"It's discouraging to private donors ... to feel that they have to step up while Congress steps back," she said.

They are willing to provide money that matches federal funding "but they do not want to replace it," she said.

One in five international tourists visits one of America's 398 national parks, research shows, and the parks are one-third of the top 25 domestic travel destinations.

For years Congress has been cutting funding to the National Park Service, and in today's dollars it is 15 percent less than a decade ago, according to The Associated Press. Park spending amounts to one-fourteenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.

Some members of the Acadia community are growing impatient with Congress and the fiscal stalemate and its affect on average Americans.

"There's no excuse for it," said Reed, the Bar Harbor town manager. "They've been fiddling around with it since last summer."

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com





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