Sequester cuts a worry as tourist season nears

Federal budget cuts due to the ongoing “sequestration” could throw a wet blanket on the summer tourist season in the Upper Peninsula – damaging the area’s economy and limiting opportunities for outdoor fun.

The U.S. Forest Service is considering closing 670 campgrounds, trailheads and picnic sites around the country during peak use season this spring and summer to put the agency in line with the automatic budget cuts that went into effect in March.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture communique announced specific cuts affecting national forests and grasslands were still being determined, but said closures of recreation sites would “result in loss of the opportunity for as many as 1.6 million visitors to national forests, harming the economies of remote rural communities that depend on recreation dollars.”

The U.P will certainly be among the areas hit – the peninsula has about 70 Forest Service camping areas in the Hiawatha and Ottawa national forests. Popular campgrounds like AuTrain Lake, Petes Lake, Brevort Lake, Haymeadow Creek, Triangle lakes and the Indian River Canoe Trail could be affected.

The $1.2 trillion across-the-board budget cuts will also impact National Park Service properties like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Alger County. Campgrounds on National Park Service land are expected to remain open this summer, but a staff cutback will result in closure of the Munising Falls Visitor Center for the season.

No one ever intended the sequestration cuts to take effect. They were supposed to be so arbitrary and draconian that they’d scare Congress into doing its job – passing a budget. The idea didn’t work, and now we’re seeing the results: cutbacks to things like small airport air traffic control towers and remote campgrounds. These cuts make very little sense when small cost savings are weighed against the harm done to rural areas.

We hope the Forest Service and Park Service strive to make these cuts as painless as possible – by preserving access to the most popular recreational sites and keeping as many campgrounds open for the summer as possible – even if they must reduce staff levels.

And we’re hopeful that the budget cuts don’t hit our region disproportionately. A few campground closures won’t ruin the economy, but they won’t make anyone’s summer happier, either.