Government agency jobs and military installations aren’t the only South Sound sites that have been affected by the cutbacks mandated in sequestration.
National parks are feeling the tension of the trimmed budget, too.
Here, there’s no larger summer recreational outlet than Mount Rainier National Park, but even it isn’t immune to the sequester’s effects. Specifically, as a result of the sequester, the park was required to reduce its fiscal year 2013 operating budget by roughly five percent, funding cut between now and September 30, the end of the federal budget cycle, during the period when most visitors come to the park.
It’s the latest blow to the park’s financial situation, which has suffered through issues for the last half-decade.
“It’s not just the impact of this year’s budget cuts,” said Park Superintendent Randy King. “Looking back over the last three years or so of cuts, we’re down right now about $1.1 million. That’s 10 percent roughly of our operating budget here at Mt. Rainier, and over time, I think you can’t hide that.”
As a result, the park has enacted several measures across the board, including closing the popular Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, normally open May through October, to save the cost of a supervisor and four seasonal workers. A hiring freeze has also cut back roughly a dozen positions, or 12 percent of the staff.
Camping seasons at Ohanapecosh and Cougar Rock campgrounds have also been shortened — cuts, according to King, that were made with careful consideration to area businesses that serve the tourists and campers who visit the park.
“I think any time you cut back on services, and that impact ripples beyond the park into our gateway communities,” he said. “The businesses in these corridors are extremely important to the park. The park can’t support the people who come here without them.”
Indeed, the decision to trim the camping season at the tail end seems to be minimizing the impact.
“I can say that in the summertime, in the middle of camping and hiking season and everything, we increase business by 25 to 35 percent,” said Hal Blanton, owner of Blanton’s Market IGA, roughly 11 miles from the Ohanapecosh Campground entrance.
“They are maintaining the campsites and all the trails, so there will still be good traffic through there,” Blanton said. “That’s what affects more than anything, the traffic that comes through. … I think they’re closing (Ohanapecosh campground) a couple of weeks earlier than what they typically would, so by then, the bulk of the season is over. There’s still traffic coming through that time of year, but the bulk of it is before Labor Day.”
Most local adventure outdoor companies, in fact, are reporting gains in sales, with another strong outlook for the 2013 camping season.
“Our business is actually up,” said Mike Jacques, a service writer for Camping World in Fife.
Camping World, which covers the gamut of gear for outdoor activities, has seen steady growth through the recession despite more limited access to parks like Mount Rainier, Jacques said. Day travelers, campers and adventurers are continuing to flood those areas, said Rob Grant, a sales manager at the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Puyallup, leading to a general uptick in business.
“Our sales have been increasing, generally across the board in every department,” he said.
Customers aren’t just local, either, he added.
“We have people visiting or settling here from other areas who need new equipment or who are picking up things for the summer,” he explained. “Just last week we had a family from Oklahoma who came in, because they’re moving to the South Sound and there’s a lot that they needed.”
Both Grant and Jacques said that, while sales at their stores have been steady throughout the recession, partly due to budget cutbacks and rising gas prices causing more people to travel locally, they expect that to only increase exponentially in the next several years.
“At the first sign of sunshine, it hits us pretty hard, and I think that will only continue,” Jacques said.