Mammoth Cave National Park is overcoming federal budget cuts to register some of the strongest summer attendance in recent memory.
The park's public information officer, Vickie Carson, says four cave tours were not offered this summer because of cuts related to the federal sequestration. But that didn't stop cave tour numbers from increasing one-to-two percent this year over the same time in 2012.
"If we continue at this rate through the end of the year, we'll probably be at 405,000 visitors through the cave this year. That would be a high point for at least the last ten years," Carson told WKU Public Radio.
Carson says with gas prices still well above $3 a gallon, Mammoth Cave has remained an attractive day trip option for those within close driving range.
Mammoth Cave National Park is preparing to continue current budget cuts into the next fiscal year. The popular southern Kentucky attraction has let many full-time and seasonal positions go unfilled due to the cuts.
Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead tells WKU Public Radio the government has informed all national parks to not expect any relief from the hit they took earlier this year from the sequestration.
"We are currently being told to plan to carry forward the cuts that we took this year, so as we start our budget effort we will plan on continuing that five-percent reduction in our budget," said Craighead. "We haven't been given any additional information regarding next year's budget."
Mammoth Cave has left several full-time positions go unfilled as part of their budget reduction, including the park electrician. Superintendent Craighead says the park is relying more on volunteer help than it normally would, and is asking for volunteers to help the park maintain its many hiking trails.
The superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park has announced the south-central Kentucky attraction has begun to implement budget cuts related to the sequestration. Sarah Craighead says Mammoth Cave is prepared to cut five-percent of its budget.
In the first effects of the cuts that will be felt by the public, the Houchin Ferry and Houchin Ferry campground did not open this week as scheduled. Houchin Ferry shuttles vehicles across the Green River near Brownsville.
In a previous interview with WKU Public Radio, Superintendent Craighead mentioned there will fewer cave tour options this summer, as well.
"We will not be hiring about seven seasonal tour guides that we intended to hire for the summer. And as a result we will eliminate a couple of the tours, because we won't have the guides available to give those tours," Craighead said.
The superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park says she's prepared to carry out the first cuts that would take place under sequestration. If Congress and the White House don't work out a deal by Friday, all national parks have been instructed to prepare for five-percent budget reductions.
"Those measures would include a variety of things, including not filling some permanent positions, such as the park electrician, and a variety of other seasonal positions," Sarah Craighead told WKU Public Radio Wednesday.
The Barren County native says the first change the public would experience if sequestration happens would be a delay in the opening of Houchen's Ferry, which had been scheduled for March 10th. The ferry shuttles vehicles across the Green River near Brownsville.
Craighead says hiring will be delayed for at least 11 seasonal positions unless a deal to end the sequester happens soon. Some of those seasonal positions would be for cave guides this summer. The Grand Avenue and Snowball cave tours would also end unless a deal is reached.
Sarah Craighead will take over in November as Mammoth Cave National Park's new superintendent, the same place she started her National Parks career more than thirty years ago. Craighead is a Hart County native who began working summers at the park as a campground ranger and cave guide while she was a Transylvania College student.