The VINP Visitors’ Center may be open fewer hours next year due to a loss of funding from national budget sequestration.
Even before the national budget sequestration went into effect earlier this year, the V.I. National Park was understaffed and underfunded.
Then the sequester went into effect on March 1 and VINP officials were forced to trim an additional five percent from the park budget.
While up to now there have been no obvious disruptions to VINP programs and services, the park faces additional cuts in the coming year.
As VINP officials prepare for Fiscal Year 2014, there is little relief in sight to ease staffing and funding issues, explained VINP Superintendent Brion FitzGerald.
“We’re trying to prepare for FY 2014 budget and we’re still down five positions,” said FitzGerald. “We didn’t have the money to fill those positions in FY 2013 and we still don’t have the money.”
VINP has been missing five staff positions — a Chief of Resource Management, two Protection Rangers, one Interpretive Ranger and an Information Technology Specialist — for more than a year.
“There is no end in sight to the funding decrease,” said FitzGerald. “We don’t know what Congress is going to do in FY 2014. So far people have only complained about how long it takes to get on a plane and they’ve addressed that.”
While national parks across the country are facing similar budget cuts, the problem is even more amplified at VINP, FitzGerald added.
“We’re really still going through the throes of it,” he said. “The park was so poor to begin with and we were so short staffed to begin with, it’s tough to sort out the effects from the lack of a base funding increase in years and the sequestration.”
Blame on the lack of VINP leadership to secure routine base funding increases over the past several years or U.S. Congress’ Budget Control Act, but St. John residents and visitors alike might begin to see some effects of the park’s money problems soon.
“I can’t tell you at this point in time when people will start to complain about the bathrooms and garbage and see that we haven’t been able to mow the brush on the roads as often as we’d like,” said FitzGerald. “There are some impacts that are visible if people are paying attention. People like to complain about the park, but it is in fact a result of being understaffed and way underfunded.”
Don’t be surprised to see the VINP Visitors’ Center in Cruz Bay shuttered more often next year.
“Most likely we’ll wind up with some closure of the Visitors’ Center next year,” said the VINP Superintendent. “I don’t want to close just because we can. We want to take the measure that we have to.”
“It might be a matter of do we close the Visitors’ Center, or not do programs for school groups and visitors,” FitzGerald said. “I’m still trying to get a good feel here from my staff about which makes the most sense. We’re not at that level of planning yet.”
A recent arson at VINP’s maintenance area which destroyed three vehicles only added to the park’s mounting financial woes.
“We’ve asked for funding to replace the vehicles which amounts to about $90,000,” said FitzGerald. “We have not heard back yet from the regional office about if any of those will be replaced. The incident certainly hurt our fleet.”
As the VINP scrambles to keep up with maintenance and interpretative needs, the loss of the park’s transportation van spelled the end to one volunteer group’s needed trail help, FitzGerald added.
“One of those vehicles was our van which was transporting the Youth Conservation Corps who were helping with trail maintenance,” he said. “We had to stop that work and find the group something else to do because we didn’t have another van for transportation.”
Anyone with information about the arson is asked to contact VINP’s Chief Ranger at (340) 776-6201 ext. 228 or 254, or call Crime Stoppers V.I. at 1-800-222-8477.