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Trace services, employees could be affected by sequestration

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Volunteer Scott Morris, left, gives visitors Cynthia and Robert Rafferty a tour of the historic inn at Mount Locust just off the Natchez Trace Parkway on Monday afternoon. Services offered along the parkway could be in danger if automatic spending cuts go into place Friday.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Volunteer Scott Morris, left, gives visitors Cynthia and Robert Rafferty a tour of the historic inn at Mount Locust just off the Natchez Trace Parkway on Monday afternoon. Services offered along the parkway could be in danger if automatic spending cuts go into place Friday.

NATCHEZ — Visitors to the Natchez Trace who need to take a bathroom break along the way might not have as many opportunities to do so in the coming year.

Administrators at the Natchez National Historic Park and the Natchez Trace Parkway are making plans to cope with the loss of funding that will result if Congress does not reach an agreement that will stop automatic spending cuts by Friday. The cuts — part of the fiscal sequestration set to go into effect March 1 — can only be stopped by a Congressional agreement, and are anticipated to affect many federal services, including the National Park Service. With less money, administrators say they’ll have to scale back services.

“Everything is impacted, and we will do the best we can to avoid compromising our resources or safety or the visitor experience,” Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said. “We are pretty good at doing great things on a shoestring, but we can’t work miracles. You have got to have people and finances. Any cut will impact our mission.”

Along the Trace, that means the park service will have to close down all of its comfort stations at least one day a week, including the stations at Cole’s Creek, Mount Locust and the Rocky Springs campground near Port Gibson, Natchez Trace Parkway Acting Superintendent Dale Wilkerson said.

The Trace would also see its seasonal workforce reduced by approximately a third.

“Some of our part-time staff we may not be able to employ,” Wilkerson said. “We will strategically work the numbers we are given so that we can do the best we can throughout the entire parkway, maintaining appropriate park levels within our available funding.”

Jenkins said the Natchez park management is putting contingency plans in place in case the automatic cuts go into effect, but she declined to discuss what those contingencies are.

“We are making plans just in case, but I am in the dark about what the loss of funding might be as much as anybody else until the end of the week,” Jenkins said. “It is just speculation, and of course it is not good speculation. We hope it doesn’t happen.”

The Natchez National Historical Park includes Melrose and the William Johnson House. The NPS also has long-term plans to incorporate the site of the former French Fort Rosalie into the park.

If sequestration goes into effect, Wilkerson said changes wouldn’t likely happen immediately. Instead, the park service would have to make appropriate reductions to its budget until meeting the target set for the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

“We won’t do anything — probably — on day one,” he said. “We would formalize those numbers and then start implementing our plans so that we can hit reduction target by year’s end.”