Crater Lake’s summer program cut
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
June 29, 2004
By LEE JUILLERAT
CRATER LAKE – Ranger-led programs, a summer tradition at Crater Lake National Park, are increasingly becoming a version of “Where’s Waldo?”
Still, Oregon’s only national park is not abandoning its schedule of boat tours, talks, junior ranger sessions and programs at the Mazama Campground, Crater Lake Lodge and Sinnott Memorial Overlook.
“We’ve had to be creative,” says Marsha McCabe, the park’s chief interpreter.
That doesn’t mean some of the usual offerings aren’t suffering. Despite finding ways to hire nine seasonals and two volunteers, this summer’s programs will be fewer than last year. None are planned at the Rim Village Community House, and ranger-led hikes will be offered only sporadically.
Unless funding patterns change, offerings in future summers could be even scarcer, warns park superintendent Chuck Lundy.
“We look forward to a time we can restore the capabilities of programs to levels that visitors remember from years ago,” says Lundy.
Kent Taylor, who served as chief interpreter from October 1986 until taking an administrative job four years ago, remembers the park financed 15 seasonal rangers out of its operating budget during the summer of 1987 – “We did roving at the rim in those days,” he remembers.
This summer McCabe is funding one seasonal directly from her budget. By tapping other sources, however, the park will have nine paid seasonals, two less than last year.
Crater Lake receives yearly concession fees from Xanterra, the company that operatesthe lodge, campgrounds, restaurants, gift shops and boat tours. Last year Xanterra funded five positions. This year Xanterra’s fees will pay for six.
“We’re effectively floating the boats by using concession franchise, or royalty, fees,” says Lundy.
McCabe says most ranger-led programs are offered at concession sites, including the boat rides, lodge talks and Mazama Campground. Seven boat tours will be offered daily, probably beginning later this week. Providing rangers on each tour is a park priority.
Two volunteer positions are funded through Ford Motor Co. as part of their partnership with the National Park Foundation. The slots were originally planned for an experimental shuttle program, but when that didn’t happen the park requested and received permission to use the money for boat tours.
McCabe added two more seasonal slots when money became available because of unfilled full-time park positions. Last year, “lapse” money provided four seasonal jobs.
Salaries vary, but seasonals who work from early- or mid-June through Labor Day cost the park about $8,000. The park typically hires other seasonals who can come earlier and stay later.
McCabe, Lundy and Taylor agree the cuts in seasonals – the rangers most visible to visitors – have been years in the making.
Taylor, who now works with the park’s budget, says seasonal interpretive jobs are especially vulnerable as the budget tightens.
“They are the last large pot that we can tap,” says Taylor. “With a seasonal employee, it’s not like firing somebody.”
Lundy says the park’s operating budget has declined $18,000 since 2002 even as pay raises have climbed more than 4 percent annually and as the park has absorbed cuts. The total shortfall since 2002 is $245,000.
“It’s money we have to find in our budget. We find it by removing seasonal positions, and not purchasing vehicles and equipment we hope we can use a little longer,” says Lundy. “We are adapting and trying to sustain some of the services the public expects and appreciates.”
Friends of Crater Lake volunteers wearing uniforms will roam Rim Village to assist and inform visitors. For many winters, Friends have staffed an information desk, while members of the Crater Lake Ski Patrol have handled outdoor programs.
For years the Crater Lake Natural History Association, which funnels money from book, map, poster and other sales back to the park, has staffed the park’s two visitor centers.
In future years, the newly formed Crater Lake Trust will pay for two rangers to work with school groups and give educational programs in and out of the park through the developing Crater Lake Science and Learning Center.
“We get thousands, if not tens of thousands, of volunteer hours,” says Lundy.
He says the cuts are understandable, given world events.
“We appreciate the fact our country is in a time of war, and that there are tremendous impacts on the national budget.”
Still, he defends ranger-led summer programs as more than a frill.
“I don’t think of it as a luxury,” Lundy says. “They preserve the fabric of this country’s important places. I view it as an essential part of our American culture.”
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For updated information on interpretive programs call the park at 594-3100 or check bulletin boards at entrance stations, campgrounds, visitor centers and other facilities.