HARKERS ISLAND — Cape Lookout National Seashore is gearing up for the busy spring and summer season, but there will be some noticeable changes due to automatic federal spending cuts.
The impact of sequestration on the National Park Service means Cape Lookout National Seashore heads into its busy season with cuts that mean reduced staff and operations.
“We cut a little more than $123,000 from our $2.4 million park budget, a 5-percent cut,” park Superintendent Pat Kenney said.
The cuts mean the loss of two seasonal employees — one park ranger for education/interpretation and one visitor use assistant — and one unfilled permanent administrative support assistant.
The positions were unfilled and there have not been layoffs, but Kenney said their loss results in reduced services. Beginning Sunday, the Harkers Island Visitor Center will be closed on weekends.
“At this point it is until the end of the fiscal year in September and will be evaluated after that,” Kenney said.
Kenney said the picnic area and trails will remain open and the adjacent Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center is open on Saturdays.
Kenney stresses that the park remains open and that activities continue at Cape Lookout.
“The park is open and the lighthouse itself opens to climbing in May,” he said.
The Light Station Visitor Center and Keepers’ Quarters Museum at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until October.
Climbing of the lighthouse will continue this season, but the loss of one of the seasonal positions will mean the end of the reservation system. Tickets will be available at the Light Station Visitor Center on a first-come, first-served basis.
The cuts will also impact programming.
Ranger-led interpretive programs offered at the Harkers Island Visitor Center on weekends will be discontinued beginning Sunday. Ranger-led interpretive program offered at the lighthouse, typically from May to September, will also be discontinued.
Kenney said they will not be printing 30,000 copies of the seashore newspaper to cut costs. The newspaper will still be published in digital format and available online, but the printed copies won’t be sent out to places such as the local tourism center and visitor centers across the state.
With 84 percent of the park’s budget paying for salaries and fixed costs such as utilities, Kenney said park personnel did their best to continue to protect the resources and meet the needs of its visitors.
“The highest priority was placed on protecting the resource, and we then moved to public health and safety,” he said.
The park cut travel, training, overtime and supply purchases and reduced the number of employee positions to meet the required spending reduction, he said.