While the impact of sequestration on Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics plant could lead to hundreds of layoffs that hurt the area’s economy, recreation could also take a hit. Superintendents at Cobb’s two National Park Service sites, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, say they are bracing in case 5 percent across-the-board cuts are enacted.
Both Kennesaw Mountain Superintendent Nancy Walther and Chattahoochee River Superintendent Patty Wissinger say they will have to cut back on seasonal employees if President Barack Obama and Congress can’t reach a deal by Friday’s deadline and automatic sequestration cuts go through.
Walther said her park is prepared to cut $83,000, 5 percent of its $1.6 million annual budget. That could mean it won’t be able to hire most of the six or seven seasonal workers it typically adds. She said the park, which has 14 permanent full-time employees, is already short staffed for a 2,900-acre site that saw 1.9 million visits last year.
While the park will try to keep some of its seasonal maintenance workers, allowing the Visitor’s Center and restrooms to stay open, Walther said some of its part-time seasonal rangers might be cut. That could mean fewer ceremonial artillery demonstrations and visits from park rangers to schools, as well as fewer school field trips to the park.
The park would need to use volunteer groups like its nonprofit Trail Club to do some of the interpretive work, such as leading hikes, usually done by part-time paid rangers.
“We rely on them pretty heavily, so we’d have to rely on them even more,” Walther said.
The park might even eliminate its contract for cell phone tours, where visitors dial a phone number posted at signs around the park to learn more about the area, Walther said.
But Kennesaw Mountain should be able to avoid having to shut down any of its trails at this point, she said.
“It’s pretty hard to do that because there are so many access points,” she said.
Down on the Chattahoochee
But closing access points to trails is an option that is being considered over at Chattahoochee River, which has several of its 15 land units in Cobb. Wissinger said the park is looking at having to eliminate $166,000 from its $3.2 million budget, meaning three or four seasonal positions won’t be added.
“We already have a pretty bare-bones staff,” she said.
The park, which covers 48 miles of the river’s shore, typically increases its employment to 75 people in the summer, up from 35 in the off-season, Wissinger said. But this year, the number of seasonal maintenance workers could be cut back, which could lead to some of the park’s 20 restrooms and even some of the less popular park areas being closed.
That could cut off access to boat ramps and trail heads.
“People’s daily exercise routines may have to be altered,” Wissinger said.
She said her staff will do what it can to avoid doing that. Initially, they plan to cut out activities such as staff travel and training, as well as capping overtime pay.
“We would look internally to see if there’s anything we can do that will have no impact on the public,” Wissinger said.
Of the 3.3 million visits made to the park last year, about 900,000 used the river, Wissinger said.
“We’re really hopeful that Congress is going to avoid the cuts,” she said.
Other parks facing cuts
The Cobb parks are facing many of the same issues as national park sites across the country. A National Park Service internal memo obtained by The Associated Press compiles a list of cuts in services in parks from Cape Cod to Yosemite. It’s the result of an order by Park Service Director John Jarvis in January that asked superintendents to show how they will absorb the funding cuts.
Most of the park system’s $2.9 billion budget is for fixed costs such as salaries and utilities, so the $112 million in cuts would slash programs. Those on the block include invasive species eradication in Yosemite, student education at Gettysburg, and comfort stations on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.
Superintendents said Chattahoochee River wouldn’t be able to raise its entry fee, currently $3 for a daily pass, while Kennesaw Mountain has no plans to start charging admission.
“Not right now,” Walther said. “It’s too hard with the economy the way it is.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story