Visitors to Congaree National Park soon will have to hit the trails and creeks Sundays and Mondays without guidance from the staff at the visitor center.
Starting in October, the Harry Hampton Visitor Center will be closed Sundays and Mondays in a cost-saving measure. The National Park Service hasn’t issued a news release on the change, but it was explained in an email to volunteers this week.
Park superintendent Tracy Stakely verified the planned changes Thursday, saying they were the result of federal sequestration cuts and general park budget reductions. The federal budget runs Oct.1 to Sept. 30.
The cuts were designed to limit the impact on services while avoiding layoffs to the park’s 20 full-time employees.
The park still will remain open seven days a week, but visitors who don’t know the trails well will have to rely on signs and maps available outside the visitors center Sundays and Mondays.
“I know this is a big shift in how the park has been operating in the past, but we feel these changes will ultimately improve our park interpretive operations and overall fiscal responsibility,” said ranger Corrine Fenner in the email to volunteers.
Stakely said the new schedule for guided hikes hasn’t been completed, but many of the hikes now offered Sundays likely will move to Saturdays starting in October.
John Grego, president of Friends of Congaree Swamp, considers the loss of staffing on Sundays serious. “It’s a heavy day for visitation and a closed Visitor Center will likely be bewildering,” he said.