Sequestration could hit Bandelier, impact visitors

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NPS > Lott calls for volunteers to replace park workers

By Arin McKenna

Sequestration is not an abstract concept for Bandelier National Monument Superintendent Jason Lott.

The possible looming reduction of government spending may be felt by park visitors this season.

“The fiscal situation is already tight, even before the sequestration. If we indeed do have to take a five percent cut it’s going to cut deep,” Lott said. “Until now, we’ve tried to keep these fiscal impacts away from the public. We have tried to protect opportunities and programs and our mission to provide enjoyment. With sequestration, there will be some public impacts, regrettably.”

One of Lott’s greatest concerns is search and rescue.

“We get anywhere from five to 20 of those a year. I don’t have staff coverage, so my ability to respond when we have an SAR is impacted. I have to bring people in and rely more heavily on the state and other resources, which just means it takes longer for us to support those activities,” Lott said.

“If someone gets hurt in the park, we’re going to have to rely on 911, as opposed to having a staff member on full coverage like we usually have. And we won’t have EMTs always on, although we’ll try to reduce that to times when there’s low visitation.”

Lott already has a hiring freeze, is furloughing staff and will not be hiring regular seasonal staff.

“We hire a lot of locals. We’re not going to be able to hire them this year,” Lott said. “Every year is different based on project funding and other needs of the park, but I’m estimating 40 jobs — some local and some not–being impacted this year.”

Some seasonal staff may be hired for special projects that are already funded. But those are also delayed, and a six-week hiring process means special projects workers may not be on board until mid-summer. Since many of those hires are college students, completing the projects could be difficult.

The hiring freeze could have long-term impacts.

“Right now, I’m short key positions in the park. We’re missing an administrative officer, a facility manager, one of our Vanishing Treasures staff, one our administrative assistants and one of our law enforcement rangers,” Lott said. “When that key position is not filled, someone has to step up and take on some of those duties, and then some duties just don’t get accomplished. And not only does that affect the visitor and the services that we’re doing, but it also affects our abilities in future years.”

Not having the staff to compete for grants and funding is a major issue, according to Lott.

“Next year’s the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and I wanted to get some trailhead projects done for that,” Lott said. “2016 is the 100 year anniversary for Bandelier National Monument and the National Park Service. I’m trying to compete for money for those years so we can get some major projects done and other things to celebrate that milestone for us, and the ability to prepare for that is being deteriorated quite a bit. I don’t have the support of staff to accomplish goals for those deals.”

Lott is doing his best to maintain special programs such as the Bandelier Opera, naturalization ceremonies, Fall Fiesta and other events, but he cannot be sure he will have the resources to do so.

The loss of long-standing programs also weighs on Lott’s mind, such as twice yearly day camps run by ranger Chris Judson. The program may be cancelled if Judson is needed to cover the visitor center.

“We have parents that took that course with Chris 20 years ago and now their children are going through it,” Lott said. “I just hate for us to lose a program like that which has had such great longevity. And if you miss a year, and then you miss a second year of a program, chances are you’re going to lose it forever.”

Lott said the park is looking for volunteers.

“Our dependence upon volunteers is more critical than ever,” Lott said. “If we had people that had an interest in working at our entrance station, who really like to visit with people, we could staff our entrance station with a volunteer and we could maintain that personal touch and that critical element for the visitor experience.”

Volunteers can be trained to do special programs, give tours or work in the fire tower. Lott would also love to have volunteers with specialized skills, such as trained electricians or woodworkers.

Lott’s anxiety about the situation is palpable.

“It concerns me that we’re where we are today, and so many of our visitor services are being impacted: campgrounds, programming, trails, quality of their experience here,” Lott said. “Our mission here is to protect resources for the enjoyment of the visiting public, and at this point in time, we’re being cut into our mission. And that’s a concern for me and the staff.”