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Sequestration cuts mean limited winter services in Apostle Islands

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is going into hibernation this winter due to sequestration budget cuts. Also, some popular ice caves may be less accessible.

The National Parks Service, like all federal agencies, has been anticipating the automatic budget cuts since the sequestration law passed in 2011. With no budget agreement, the cuts began in March, 2013. The parks service has been cut by 10 percent, and if Congress doesn't act there'll be another 3 percent cut in 2014.

Three percent may not sound like much, but National Lakeshore Chief of Planning Julie Van Stappen says these cuts are having noticeable impacts. "We haven't been able to fill permanent positions, we have fewer seasonal positions and it's just been a huge challenge trying to figure out how to keep the visitors services and the resources protection at levels that we want to, with declining staff and budget."

Van Stappen says this winter, the National Lakeshore Visitors' center will all but close and they may not be able to plow a road to the popular ice caves in Cornucopia. "The idea behind that is we're trying to save every dollar we can so that we can keep the summer operations, when the majority of people are here, as complete as possible."

Democratic Rep. Ron Kind says it's nonsense to blindly cut agencies that are economic drivers like the Parks Service. "[Sequestration cuts are] indiscriminate, it's across the board, it's regardless of the economic consequences," Kind said. "A recent study was published that shows that our national parks generate $80 billion in economic activity in the states and communities in which they're located."

Kind does have hope though, that Congress will come together and pass a budget. He says key officials, known as "budget conferees," have been named and are expected to meet soon.

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