GBNP reduces winter hours

Great Basin National Park announced its winter hours, which will be reduced because of an uncertain Fiscal Year 2014 budget situation.

Beginning Dec. 2, Lehman Caves Visitor Center will be open Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays fron 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Visitors Center will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“Our focus is providing the best services to the most folks,” Superintendent Steve Mietz said. “We analyzed park visitation statistics and determined that reducing cave tours in the winter had the least impact upon visitors due to low winter visitation. The winter reduction in services allow us to focus personnel and resources on our high visitation seasons like summer.”

The Grand Palace Tour of Lehman Caves will be offered at 1 p.m. on the park’s open days. In addition, Saturday will also have a 9 a.m. tour. Tours are limited to 20 people and reservations are encouraged.

Until Jan. 15, when the final funding for FY 2014 is scheduled to be decided, the park is operating on FY 2013 levels, which represented an eight percent reduction from FY 2012. The lowered winter hours will mean longer furloughs for employees.

But potential budget reductions will also affect the park in other ways, some invisible to park visitors while others could have a major impact.

“Some of the budget reduction will be abosrbed through administrative efficiencies and actions that will not be noticeable to the typical park visitor,” Mietz said. “However, depending upon the budget we get in January from Congress, we may be forced to delay opening the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. Instead of plowing the road open to the top of the mountain on Memorial Day, which has been our goal historically, we may let mother nature do more of the work and let it naturally melt and open the road later in the season.”

Mietz said if the opening is delayed until June 15, the park will save about $50,000.

“It is in every park employee’s DNA to serve the public and provide safe experiences of this national treasure that last a lifetime,” Mietz said. “The decision to reduce visitor services are not taken lightly by myself and the staff at Great Basin National Park but are necessary given the current budget information.”

While GBNP may be experiencing fewer hours of operation, Mietz said it offers plenty for people to enjoy during the winter.

“For the adventurous, the park offers excellent cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities,” Mietz said. “The park offers snow shoes for visitors to use with a $2 donation for a day’s use. For the cold tolerate, Lower Lehman Campground is open for winter camping. And, of course, Lehman Caves is open for tours and is a balmy 50 degrees year round.”

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