Olympic National Park superintendent tells of budget woes, praises community
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Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
Sarah Creachbaum, Olympic National Park's superintendent, addresses the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday at SunLand Golf & Country Club.

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– With pay for new rangers stagnant and falling, Sarah Creachbaum, superintendent of Olympic National Park, told the area's business leaders that it's more important than ever for cities around national parks to provide a high quality of life.

“I have to have a really great place for the best and the brightest because that's who I want,” Creachbaum told members of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce at their bimonthly luncheon meeting Tuesday at SunLand Golf & Country Club.

Good schools, active communities and adequate services are key to attracting scientists, engineers and architects to apply for employment in a park like Olympic, she said.

Creachbaum, a self-described “evangelist” for the National Park Service, said a tightening federal budget, compounded by the across-the-board “sequester” cuts in February, means those looking to work for the Park Service will place more value on the amenities offered in cities near parks.

“You guys provide the community for that,” she said.

The park in 2011 employed 229 workers who earned $15,238,000 in wages, with money primarily spent locally, she said.

Creachbaum cited Park Service statistics that showed that 2,966,502 visitors to Olympic National Park in 2011 left a $115 million mark on businesses within 60 miles of the park.

While the park lacks final figures, attendance is about 4.6 percent higher in 2012 than it was in 2011, she said, adding that one of the main draws was the removal of the dams from the Elwha River.

Work began in September 2011, with Elwha Dam demolished by March 2012 and crews resuming demolition of Glines Canyon Dam in July in the $325 Elwha River Restoration Project, the largest dam-removal project in the nation's history.

“It's really magnificent. And it hasn't happened before,” Creachbaum said.

Quality lodging facilities, restaurants and amusements, she added, also are important in keeping national park visitors in the area longer.

“The longer you keep them here, the more time I have to tell them about the National Park Service,” Creachbaum said, “which is my job.”

Creachbaum said the park has not been allotted an increase to its operating budget in three years.

That was compounded by February's sequester cuts that sliced Olympic National Park's budget by 6 percent, or $639,000 from the $12.8 million operating budget.

“No whinin',” she said.

To come up with the savings, the park is tending less to its landscaping, staging fewer interpretive programs, delaying opening of some seasonal roads and closing some of the smaller campgrounds.

“It costs us a lot to go around and clean the potties out,” she said.

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 09. 2013 6:05PM
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