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Visitors to Northland's national parks will see changes due to budget cuts

Campsites may be less tidy. Vault toilets at campgrounds might be more aromatic. Rangers will be harder to find. Visitor centers could be closed more often.

Kayakers
A group of sea kayakers approach a crevice in sandstone cliffs along the mainland sea caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore near Cornucopia in July 2012. National parks in the Northland and nationwide have had to cut back services this summer in the wake of federal budget cuts. (2012 file / News Tribune)
Clint Austin / 2012 file / Duluth News Tribune

Campsites may be less tidy. Vault toilets at campgrounds might be more aromatic. Rangers will be harder to find. Visitor centers could be closed more often.

Those are just a few of the changes that visitors to national parks across the Northland are likely to notice this summer as a result of a federal process called sequestration.

"I think it will matter a great deal," said Tawnya Schoewe, chief of interpretation at Voyageurs National Park near International Falls. "I've already gotten several e-mails and calls from people who wanted to come in spring or fall. Normally, we have our (boat) tours in the spring and fall, but now we're not doing that. We can't get them out on the water."

Sequestration is the result of a law passed by Congress in 2011 calling for $1 trillion in automatic, arbitrary federal budget cuts if lawmakers could not agree on a larger budget deal. The cuts became effective March 1. National parks, like other agencies, saw a 5 percent cutback in their budgets in most cases. Those cuts came in many forms, and with summer travel now ramping up, park visitors will begin seeing the evidence of those budget constraints.

Visitor centers will be open fewer hours per day or fewer days per week. Fewer seasonal positions, including rangers, will be filled, and their hours will be reduced. Boat tours, pumping of vault toilets and evening interpretive programs all will be reduced.

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"We've done microsurgery in 20 different places around the park," said Bob Krumenaker, superintendent at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Bayfield. "I don't think there's any more microsurgery we can do. I'm worried that if sequestration continues next year, we'll have to start amputating."

Krumenaker said that, adjusting for inflation, this year's budget at the park is the lowest since 2001. At Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, 87 percent of costs are fixed costs, Krumenaker said. All of the sequestration cuts have come from the remaining 13 percent of the budget.

"It's a big cut from the discretionary money," he said.

Voyageurs National Park will close all three of its visitor centers -- at Rainy Lake, Kabetogama and Ash River -- on Sundays and Mondays this summer to meet its sequestration cuts, Schoewe said.

"As the summer gets underway and people come, I think that visitors may notice the cuts more and more," she said.

At Isle Royale, park officials have tried to reduce impacts to visitors as a result of sequestration cuts, said superintendent Phyllis Green.

"Most of our major entry areas will be staffed, but we have reduced the interpretive programs," Green said. "And we probably won't get into the backcountry to clean outhouses quite as frequently."

Grand Portage National Monument superintendent Tim Cochrane said officials there also tried to limit the effect of budget cuts on visitors. The monument's Heritage Center will open a week later than usual, he said, but then stay open seven days a week all summer -- though it will close an hour earlier each day.

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No information was yet available from Superior National Forest about how sequestration cuts might affect the forest or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, said Kris Reichenbach, public affairs officer.

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