Cutbacks Have Smithsonian Down, But Not Out

SmithsonianGovernment cutbacks have affected travel in a number of ways. Passport applications and renewals are taking longer, as is the process for requesting a visa. Traveling abroad, less security at U.S. facilities means less protection for Americans. National parks have closed some facilities and delayed opening of others. Now, even the Smithsonian Institution in Washington is feeling the impact of budget cuts.

“A reduction in a contract for security that supplements the Smithsonian security force affects some museums. The safety and security of the public and our collections will not be compromised,” said a notice on the Smithsonian website.

While no major exhibitions will be closed, the commons in the Smithsonian Castle, one room in the African Mosaic exhibit and sections of the permanent collection galleries in the Hirshhorn Museum will be unavailable for a short time.

On a positive note, the Smithsonian, a top budget travel destination, has a number of new exhibits underway of particular interest to fans of space travel that are unaffected.Extraordinary Voyages: 50 Years of Exploration is a NASA-supported lecture series at the National Air and Space Museum that started with a story that began 50 years ago when Mariner 2 flew by Venus and became the first successful mission to another planet. Upcoming events include a live webcast of the Exploring Space lecture, Vesta in the Light of Dawn on May 7, 2013. This program continues also because of support by aerospace contractor Aerojet.

Featured, fully-open exhibits at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., also include “Time and Navigation,” “Moving Beyond Earth,” “Fifty Years of Human Space Flight,” “Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight,” and “The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age.

This video has more on how budget cuts are affecting the Smithsonian:



[Photo credit – Flickr user The Uprooted Photographer]

Yellowstone Avoids Delayed Opening Thanks To Efforts Of Wyoming Town

Yellowstone National ParkOver the past month or so we’ve all heard stories about the impact of sequestration on America’s national parks. Severe budget cuts, brought on by Congress’ inability to come to a fiscal compromise, have resulted in a loss of services in a number of parks across the country. In order to operate within its revised budget, this year the National Park Service has been forced to close visitor centers, cut back on staff and even delay the opening of some of the parks. One of those parks is Yellowstone, where the NPS decided to delay the spring opening by two weeks. That decision was made when park officials realized they could save as much as $100,000 by not having to plow snow from the roads following the scheduled May 3 opening. But thanks to the determination and generosity of one Wyoming town, the park will now open on schedule.

The town of Cody sits 52 miles outside of Yellowstone and serves as an access point for the park’s East Gate. As you can imagine, the sleepy little village sees a lot of traffic during the summer travel months with travelers stopping by on their way in or out of the park. Last year, over 11,000 visitors passed through the East Gate in the first two weeks of the season alone. The loss of that early season traffic this year was estimated to cost Cody more than $2 million in revenue.

Cody Chamber of Commerce executive director Scott Balyo saw the delayed opening as both a potential crisis and a major opportunity. He challenged the local citizens and businesses to raise the $100,000 necessary to pay the road crews to plow snow from Yellowstone’s highways, setting a deadline of April 1 to reach their goal. The response was overwhelming with contributions ranging from as little as $10 all the way up to $10,000. Together the citizens of Cody managed to complete their fund raising efforts well ahead of schedule.

Working in conjunction with Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk and officials from Wyoming, the town of Cody has now arranged for state vehicles to plow the roads inside the national park. The $100,000 raised will completely cover the costs, allowing the East Gate to open on schedule. That means anyone planning a visit to Yellowstone in early May will still have access to the park despite all of the on going sequestration drama.

This is good news for fans of Yellowstone and a job well done by the citizens of Cody.

National Parks Conservation Association rallies public support for park funding

The National Parks Conservation Association has generated 105,000 signaturesThe National Parks Conservation Association wants the U.S. government to stop cutting critical funding to national parks – and apparently many Americans agree. Earlier this week, the NPCA announced that it had garnered more than 105,000 signatures from its supporters asking Congress to put an end to budget cuts to the National Park Service, asserting that those cuts that are endangering the future of parks.

Back in May, the NPCA kicked off its National Parks Protection Project which was designed to educate members of Congress and the American public about the importance of proper funding for the national parks. When that initiative got underway, an online petition was also included, with the goal of attaining 100,000 signatures asking the government to stop slashing funding to the parks. After all, the NPCA points out, the Park Service’s budget is just one-thirteenth of one percent of the total federal budget.

For that relatively small amount of money, the national parks generate quite a return on the investment. Not only does that funding go toward protecting and promoting the most amazing park system in the world, it also has an important impact on the communities that surround those parks. It is estimated that the national parks are responsible for contributing more than $13 billion to local economies each year while also creating nearly 270,000 private-sector jobs.

Now, just over three months after the petition went online, the NPCA has not only met its goal, but exceeded it. In fact, the organization’s president, Tom Kiernan, has said “This is by far the most successful petition drive we’ve ever had – in nearly 100 years of operations – and it’s time for Congress to take notice of how many people have joined this effort.”

I tend to agree with Kiernan. The national parks are a fantastic resource and one that we need to protect for future generations to enjoy as well. Unfortunately, budget cuts have made those efforts incredibly challenging. But considering what the parks give back to us, both tangibly and intangibly, perhaps it is time to stop looking solely at the bottom line.

Budget cuts may axe Washington historic sites

Washington, washington, Tacoma, tacomaAs the Great Recession drags on, more and more state programs are feeling the pinch. This includes many sites of historic interest. In the latest budget announced by Washington Governor Chris Gregiore, the state’s three Historical Society museums will all have to close.

The State Capital Museum in the Lord Mansion in Olympia, and museums in Tacoma and Spokane, would all be affected. The governor has earmarked $2.4 million to maintain the sites and their archives, but it would cost twice as much to keep them open, The News Tribune reports.

The Lord Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and in addition to having a museum, it hosts many public events. The Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma gets an average of 100,000 visitors a year.

To be fair to Governor Gregiore, she’s facing a serious problem. If she keeps the museums open, that means $2.4 million less for other programs, and then some non-travel-related blog would be complaining about her budget. But museums and historical societies are important parts of the community, not just for old-timers who want to reminisce and tourists interested in history, but newcomers who want some background on their surroundings. I’ve moved way too many times, and one thing I always do to get grounded is study the history of my new home.

I also do Civil War research, and that means I’ve seen the inner workings of many historical societies. One place you’ll often find me is the State Historical Society of Missouri. Once or twice a week my studies are interrupted by a crowd of schoolkids coming into the library to see the treasures of the archives. Some researchers grumble about this, but I’m always happy to see them come in. One object that always arouses interest is a long, thin map of the Mississippi River that unrolls like a scroll. Steamboat pilots used it to navigate the perilous waters of the river more than a century ago. The students are fascinated by it, not just because of its odd appearance but because of what it symbolizes. More than once I’ve overheard kids talking about what it would have been like to use the map to avoid sandbars, sunken logs, and dangerous currents just like Mark Twain did.

This historical society, like so many others, has had its share of budget cuts. They recently had to stop a theatrical series and a traveling lecture tour. Both were popular, but the society simply can’t afford them.

It would be a shame if they had to cut the tours. Missouri schoolkids wouldn’t get their imaginations fired by that map anymore.

[Photo courtesy Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons]

Recession kills Chapel Hill Museum, threatens others

The municipal museum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is the latest victim of the recession. It closed its doors on Sunday after 14 years in operation. The town council had only earmarked $20,000 for the museum in the 2011 budget, far short of the $49,000 it needed to stay open.

The Chapel Hill Museum explored the history and culture of this prosperous university town with displays on early settlers, desegregation, works from local artists, and a popular fire engine from 1914. More than 15,000 people visited the museum every year and it was a regular destination for school groups.

With budgets getting cut across the country, the Chapel Hill Museum may be the canary in the coal mine for cultural organizations. The Battleship New Jersey was recently saved from a budget cut, but a nearby children’s garden had to reduce its hours after getting less funding than it needed. Numerous parks and historic sites in New York also face closure.


Photo courtesy Siera Heavner via Wikimedia Commons.