MARQUETTE - Federal sequestration budget cuts could negatively affect the summer tourist season in the Upper Peninsula with the U.S. Forest Service contemplating the closure of hundreds of campgrounds and other sites across the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the impacts on cuts in recreation at specific forests and grasslands were still being determined.
"The Forest Service is planning for the possible closure of 670 campgrounds, trailheads and picnic sites around the country in peak use season in the spring and summer and are still determining which, exactly, those areas will be," according to a press release. "The closing of these 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."
Wendy Witt of Kalamazoo stops at Trout Bay while on a mountain biking tour of Grand Island. The Forest Service is considering closing hundreds of campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads this summer in response to federal sequestration budget cuts. The closures list has not been finalized. (U.S. Forest Service photo)
The U.P. is home to about 70 Forest Service camping areas scattered across the vast holdings of the Hiawatha and Ottawa national forests.
In the central and eastern part of the peninsula, the Hiawatha National Forest's roughly 895,000 acres is split into two units, with about 20 campgrounds situated at popular sites including AuTrain Lake, Petes Lake and Camp 7 Lake in the west and Soldier Lake, Brevort Lake and Foley Creek in the east unit.
In addition, the Hiawatha has about two dozen dispersed Forest Service camping areas at places including Haymeadow Creek, Crooked and Triangle lakes and along the Indian River Canoe Trail.
The Hiawatha also has three group camping sites at Camp Cook, Colwell Lake and Little Bay de Noc.
In the western U.P., the Ottawa National Forest's 993,000 acres contain 22 campgrounds ranging from those at Sparrow Rapids, Bobcat Lake and the Paint River Forks to Courtney Lake, Golden Lake and the Black River Harbor Recreation Area.
Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Tourism Association in Iron Mountain, said unless the Forest Service campground closures disproportionately affect the region - closing 20 U.P. campgrounds or more for example - the effects of any closures would likely be limited.
"We certainly like to never have anything cut back, but if it's just a couple of campgrounds, we have more than enough (overall) capacity, I wouldn't be concerned," Nemacheck said.
State lands - which are not subject to the sequestration budget cuts - provide access to numerous campgrounds in the U.P., including several at state parks ranging from Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the east, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the west, Indian Lake State Park in the south and McLain State Park in the north.
There are also picnic and camping areas located at county and municipal sites, including Perkins Park in Big Bay, which is operated by Marquette County.
Nemacheck said access to scenic sites, trails and other features is paramount when considering closure impacts.
"As long as they (visitors) can still get into all the attractions, that's what's most important," Nemacheck said.
Meanwhile, the $1.2 trillion across-the-board sequestration budget cuts to government agencies - which were leveled March 1 and will take place over the next 10 years - will also affect National Park Service properties from the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park to the Liberty Bell and the Cape Cod National Seashore.
At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Alger County, campgrounds on National Park Service land are expected to remain open this summer. However, the loss of a seasonal visitor services assistant through the sequestration cutbacks will result in closure of the Munising Falls Visitor Center just east of Munising.
"It will be closed for the season," said Tim Good, acting supervisor at Pictured Rocks.
The closure is expected to affect 20,000 visitors to the park.
Good said a joint National Park Service-U.S. Forest Service visitor center located at the intersection of M-28 and Alger County Highway 58 in Munising was expected to remain open.
"The park service is going to honor its commitment to that," Good said.
Superintendents at Isle Royale National Park and Keweenaw National Historical Park said previously the 5 percent sequestration cut would have impacts there that would also affect visitor experiences, including reductions to seasonal staff, visitor center hours and days of operation, ranger programs and technical support for heritage sites, closure of ranger stations and at least one campground.
Kyle Bonini, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, said Benishek will be monitoring any possible campground closures.
"Like many people in northern Michigan, Dr. Benishek is very frustrated that instead of cutting the millions of dollars the federal government wastes each day, the bureaucrats in Washington decide to cut back on useful services for families in the Upper Peninsula," Bonini said.
Bonini said Benishek supported two House bills last year that would have prevented the sequestration cuts from taking place. The Senate did not act on that legislation.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, said "the harmful cuts known as sequestration were never intended to go into effect.
"Sequestration was intended to induce Congress into passing a responsible deficit reduction plan. Congress should take up and pass a balanced plan that would avoid those arbitrary cuts and still reduce the deficit. Such a plan would include a mix of responsible spending cuts and new revenues."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com