2013-03-07 / Front Page

Federal cuts mean job losses at Lakeshore

By Amy Hubbell Of The Enterprise staff

An estimated 20 seasonal workers at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL) will have a shorter season and in some cases no season at all thanks to federal budget cuts.

The failure of Congress to adopt a 2013 budget by Friday is forcing federal agencies to make approximately $85 billion in budget cuts as required by the Budget Control Act of August 2011.

Locally, this means an estimated $212,000 in cuts at Sleeping Bear and focusing resources in the busiest time at the park — June, July and August.

“We wanted to avoid furloughing our permanent staff like other federal agencies,” said Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent at SBDNL, who began working on contingency plans last week as Congress appeared to be at an impass. “Cuts will be to our seasonal staff.”

The cuts are expected to affect 20 workers and mean that access to most park attractions and amenities will be limited to Memorial Day through Labor Day.

“There will be no vault toilets or trash cans at beaches or trailheads,” Ulrich said. “Pierce Stocking Drive will not open until Memorial Day.”

In addition to maintenance, cuts are also expected to impact members of the interpretive staff and summer law enforcement.

“Some people will have reduced season. Others may have no job at all,” Ulrich said.

Resource management may also take a hit as biologists, who among other activities, monitor invasive species and the endangered Piping Plover population will see a smaller season.

“We may lose the ground we gained. We’ve afforded a great deal of protection to the Piping Plover when they’re nesting,” Ulrich said. ”With less resources we won’t be able to do as much which could jeopardize the population.”

One-third of the Piping Plover population on the Great Lakes is located at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

While the direct impact is still about three months out, Ulrich said his staff is already turning away inquiries from schools planning a fieldtrip to the park before classes conclude in June.

“We get calls every day from schools,” Ulrich said. “We are estimating that up to 400 groups totaling 10,000 school children will be denied ranger programs due to sequestration.”

The Dune Climb, one of the most popular park attractions, may or may not be open prior to Memorial Day or after Labor Day.

“We’re trying not to close it,” Ulrich said of the attraction which drew more than 50,000 during June, July and August of last year.

Planned cuts come on the heels of the most successful year in the parks Cuts come after record attendance at the park in 2012. One million, five hundred thirty one thousand, five hundred and sixty visitors made their way to SLDNL last year, besting the previous record of 1,364,834 by 10.8 percent.

Seventy-six percent (1,155,129) of these visitors were counted during the months of June, July and August, according to park numbers.

Among these are visitors to North and South Manitou Island. They too are expected to be impacted by the budget cuts.

“We aren’t going to ban them from going there. But we’re going to have to let them know there’ll be no water and no restrooms once they’re out there,” Ulrich said.

Those camping on North Manitou are already to carry everything they need offshore with them. Likewise, they are also required to return all waste when returning to the mainland.

However, the cuts could have a negative “ripple” effect in the county which relies greatly on commerce generated through the county’s biggest tourist attraction.

A model by Michigan State University indicated that in 2011 $132 million in commerce was generated locally by use of the park. In addition, 2,300 jobs were created, Ulrich said.

“Some will come. Some won’t come during the shortened season,” he said. “For those who don’t, it will mean fewer dollars coming into the the community.”

Return to top