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Federal budget cuts squeeze services at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes
flickr user Danielle Lynch
Sleeping Bear Dunes was voted "The Most Beautiful Place in America" on ABC's Good Morning America.

'The sequester' has generated a nervous buzz throughout the nation as we wait to see if the federal budget cuts will be a big deal. 

For some agencies in Michigan, the cuts are already here.

Let's take a look at one of the state's most popular scenic tourist destinations - the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Last year, the Dunes had a record year with 1.53 million visitors.

Tom Ulrich is the Deputy Superintendent of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Though he wasn't told to furlough any of his year round employees, Ulrich was required to cut a lot of the seasonal employees that are crucial to park maintenance over the summer.

"Our summer staff is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to visitor services and resource protection. So, the sequester cuts will result in things that the visitor will see when they come to the dunes," said Ulrich.

Earlier this week on Stateside, we spoke with Todd Spangler of the Detroit Free Press about how the sequester will effect Michiganders. In short, he said, there's still a lot we don't know.

Here's a quick snippet of Tuesday's discussion with Spangler:

"Agencies around the state (of Michigan) were lobbying hard for a stop to the sequestration because 70,000 kids for instance were going to lose Head Start services, but some of that money's been put back in through Congress from the 'continuing resolution' and some hasn't...so we're still waiting to see what the effect will be." The continuing resolution has left many agencies on tenterhooks, waiting to see what funding they will lose while many employees within the Department of Defense are also waiting to see if their jobs will be furloughed. In order to truly see the effects of the sequester, Spangler said, we just have to wait for the changes to work through the system. "When the sequestration went into effect, it was an across the board cut. There were different percentage [cuts] for different agencies, but it was across the board. Agencies were supposed to lop off things off of programs. Now, by going back into it as a part of the budget appropriation from last week, Congress was able to say 'spend on this, but don't spend on that.'" While some agencies are still waiting for more information, others know what will have to change with the sequester's across the board cuts. The National Park Service has been directed to cut five percent from their annual budget, and in a state like Michigan, that means we'll see changes.

Kate Fox of 7 & 4 Newsreported that:

"For the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore, the spending cuts amount to a $234,000 reduction from its overall budget of $4,676,000."

The lack of staff due to the sequester will limit visitation for one of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore's most popular sites, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

The Drive is the only area where visitors can drive to an outlook that features the breathtaking view of Lake Michigan.

In the past, Pierce Stocking has opened in mid-April and closed for the season in late October.

Due to the sequester, Ulrich has delayed opening the Drive until Memorial Day weekend. The Drive will be closed to visitors on Labor Day weekend.

"I don't have the staff to open it, clear trees, sweep the Drive, clean the restrooms and put in the boardwalk," he said.

Restroom and garbage facilities will also run on the shortened schedule.  

"Those things will be things that even a casual visitor will be disappointed to see," said Ulrich.

-Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

To listen to the story, click the link above.

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