As if we needed more proof that the federal sequestration process is as dumb — and gutless — a way to cut federal spending as one can think of, just look to Sleeping Bear Dunes.
The national lakeshore is coming off its busiest season ever — it hosted 1.53 million visitors in the 2012 season. And in 2011 it was named the Most Beautiful Place in America — a bit of TV hubris, perhaps — by ABC’s “Good Morning America,” a claim that is still drawing calls and visitors, area businesses say.
But like so many other key services and programs put on the chopping block because Congress and the White House can’t make the tough choices we elected them to make, Sleeping Bear’s budget was cut as part of the sequester. The cuts aren’t large — 5 percent — but they count. And they’ll be noticed by visitors.
Sleeping Bear has announced staff and services reductions. Superintendent Dusty Shultz said the reductions will not affect the season between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the park receives 80 percent of its visitors; but the other 20 percent of visitors will see the effects.
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, one of the most popular attractions in the park, will be open for a shorter time of year, there will be fewer ranger-led tours, and efforts to remove exotic, invasive plants will be curtailed. Some seasonal employees will lose their jobs, the trash won’t be picked up as often at some locations and some vault toilets, essentially big outhouses, won’t be open part of the year. Yes, visitors will notice.
In short, taxpayers — who own the place, after all — will have fewer chances to see and enjoy parts of this most beautiful hunk of America, with its 450-foot-tall dues, 35 miles of shoreline and beaches and tens of thousands of acres of trees and views, all because the Washington political class is too timid to do their jobs.
Some local businesses, mostly hotel owners and others who make a living off tourism, and a group called Environment Michigan last week unveiled a “top 10” list of reasons why the dunes need protection from pollution and complained about budget cuts. They wan’t more money from Congress to take up the slack, but good luck with that.