Sequester to squeeze Fredericksburg–Spotsylvania national park
Shuttered visitor facilities, shorter hours, vastly reduced programming and bare-bones commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial.
That’s what the next six months hold if “the sequester,” in Washington-speak, hits March 1 at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
“The park’s impact on local communities is about $50 million a year, most in the summertime, so if the sequester goes forward, it could have a pretty big economic effect on them,” Superintendent Russ Smith said in a weekend interview.
Nationally, news broke Thursday about how the National Park Service would absorb a 5 percent cut, based on a memo obtained by The Associated Press.
Responding to a reporter’s query, Smith sketched how the federal government’s across-the-board spending cuts will affect operations of the service’s second largest military park. Its 8,300 acres encompass four major Civil War battlefields and related sites in four counties—Spotsylvania, Stafford, Orange and Caroline—and the city of Fredericksburg.
“We’ll try to spread closures out during this first period to keep the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center open,” Smith said. “We won’t have extended summer hours or much in the way of programs.”
The park won’t be able to hire seasonal interpreters, “the backbone of our busiest season,” he said. “We depend on them for an awful lot.”
It also won’t be able to fill vacancies, now about 20 percent of its permanent, full-time staff—10 of 48 positions. The park had the same number of employees in 1990, when it was half its present size.
The ripple effects of those two predicaments will force cancellation of the park’s locally popular “History at Sunset” tours and cut special events for the Battle of Chancellorsville’s 150th anniversary to just a few, as compared with the Battle of Fredericksburg’s multi-event sesquicentennial this past December.
“Without summer seasonals, permanents will have to cover one another’s annual leave, and that will contribute to staff shortages,” Smith said.
The park probably will have to close its Chancellorsville Visitor Center in Spotsylvania one day a week and Chatham Manor, its headquarters in Stafford, one day a week, he said.
The Stonewall Jackson Shrine, the plantation building in Caroline where the famed Confederate general died in May 1863, will open only two days during midsummer, compared with the usual seven days per week.
“We will have some closures, and normal things won’t get done,” Smith said. “Visitors will notice that the grass will be growing longer everywhere because we can’t cut it as often.
“We hope the sequester, if it comes, will be short and that we’ll be back to a fairly normal schedule very quickly. We consider ourselves the good guys and want to provide the best possible service to our visitors. It really pains us to have to announce any of these cuts.”
Smith has planned for a 5 percent budget cut.
If the sequester extends beyond September, the fiscal year’s end, hours and programs will be further reduced throughout the service.
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Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029