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Proposed FY 2019 fed budget cuts local sites; 2017 report presented

The administration’s Fiscal Year 2019 federal budget proposal cuts the Outer Banks group of national parks by $1,103,000.

The requested 2019 overall operating or base budget for the three parks is $8,799,000 down from $9,842,000, according to the Budget Justification for the administration’s budget proposal.

In the construction budget, repairs to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are budgeted at $15,145,000 in 2021. For at least five years, this project has been the top construction priority for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The lighthouse will undergo rehabilitation.

A quick scan down the budget listing for 417 sites under the National Park Service shows cuts to operating funds for all sites.

Overall, the federal administration proposed a budget of $2.7 billion for the National Park Service for Fiscal Year 2019. The budget figure represents a seven percent cut to the overall service budget. The cut to the local parks is 11 percent.

The administration’s budget also proposes “to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund that would help address the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park System. The fund would take new revenue from federal energy leasing and development and provide up to $18 billion to help pay for repairs and improvements in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education funded schools,” states the budget news release from the National Park Service.

Cape Hatteras National Superintendent Dave Hallac will be at the Fessenden Center in Buxton on Thursday, March 1, to provide a 2017 yearend summary of the parks. The meeting is scheduled for 6 to 7 p.m.

On Feb. 22, Hallac presented 2017 information to the Board of Commissioners.

NPS 2017 Year in Review

The three Outer Banks parks entertained 3.2 million visitors in 2017.

Visitation at Fort Raleigh was down 6 percent and Wright Brothers, where the visitor center is under renovation, was down 10 percent.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore visitation increased one percent. At the commissioners meeting, Hallac said the visitation was the strongest in 14 years for the seashore and that November 2017 visitation was the highest visitation for that month since 1998.

The weeklong Hatteras-Ocracoke power outage dramatically affected visitation but that was offset by the attraction of Shelly Island. At its peak on Aug. 17, 2017, the island reached nine tenths of a mile with 27 acres. By Jan. 31, 2018, the island was gone.

Staff totaled 79 year-round full time employees with 100 seasonal staffers in the summer. Some 352 volunteers help the park.

The overall budget for the three sites totaled $14.6 million, the base budget at $9.6 million, off-road vehicle permits at $2.7 million and camping and lighthouse fees at $2.3 million. Other fees and donations amounted to $250,000. Not all of the base budget reaches the park, as Washington, D.C. and the Southeast Regional offices take an assessment before sending the budget figures to the local parks.

In 2017, the base budget figure reaching the Outer Banks Group was $9,664,000.

The year 2017 recorded the highest number of off-road vehicle permits sold, 39,181. Hallac’s presentation states that summertime beach driving occurred on 94 percent of the 27.2 off-road vehicles miles.

In terms of visitor engagement, Wright Brothers led the way with 1,289 programs attended by 57,445 visitors. Junior Rangers at Wright Brothers numbered 3,608.

Cape Hatteras seashore offered 973 programs to 18,959 visitors. Junior rangers numbered 1,488.

At Fort Raleigh, 696 programs were offered to 8,481 visitors. Junior rangers numbered 1,388.

Hallac reported that the complete restoration of the Wright Brothers visitor center is on track to open at the end of August.

He also praised the “Pack It In-Pack It Out” program initiated with partners Outer Banks Preservation Association, the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association and the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club.