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Parks told to quietly cut services

Superintendents in N.E. get memo on avoiding outcry

WASHINGTON -- National park superintendents are being told to cut back on services -- possibly even closing smaller, historic sites two days a week or shuttering visitor centers on federal holidays -- without letting on they are making cuts.

Former employees of the National Park Service, critical of how cuts are being handled, yesterday released a memo e-mailed last month to park superintendents in the Northeast from the Park Service's Boston office.

The memo's suggestions for responding to tight budgets this year also include closing visitor centers during the winter, or eliminating guided ranger tours and lifeguards at some beaches.

"If you think that some of your specific plans will cause a public or political controversy, Marie and I need to know which ones are likely to end up in the media or result in a congressional inquiry," says the memo sent Feb. 20 by Chrysandra Walter, the Park Service's Northeast deputy director.Walter was referring to Marie Rust, the Park Service's director for the Northeast, based in Philadelphia. Walter also wrote that she was relaying instructions from Randy Jones, the Park Service's deputy director. "Randy felt that the issuance of a press release was the most problematic," she wrote.

"He suggested that if you feel you must inform the public . . . not to directly indicate that `this is a cut' in comparison to last year's operation," she said. "We all agreed to use the terminology of `service level adjustment' due to fiscal constraints as a means of describing what actions we are taking." Neither Walter nor a spokeswoman for Rust responded to requests for comment.

Former park superintendent Denny Huffman, representing a group of retired Park Service employees, and Jeff McFarland, director of a professional association of park rangers, said the memo illustrates a broader attempt to sugarcoat facts while stifling people.

"Make no mistake about it. There is a chill over the National Park Service today," Huffman said.

National Park Service spokesman Dave Barna said that the agency's aim was to avoid a public relations fiasco, and that cuts would be done judiciously.

The Park Service's budget has steadily increased during the Bush, Clinton, and previous administrations, Barna said, but had to absorb $50 million in firefighting costs and $150 million in repair costs from Hurricane Isabel last year.

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