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Thune: Administration 'playing politics' with Black Hills campground closure

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Sen. John Thune is asking if the National Park Service is "playing politics" by closing Wind Cave National Park's 64-site Elk Mountain Campground.

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Thune, R-S.D., sent a letter Monday to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis questioning whether the NPS is playing politics in deciding to close the facility. The NPS decision to close the Elk Mountain Campground came following the implementation of sequestration and, according to the senator, appears to substantiate reports that the NPS is intentionally trying to make the cuts more visible to the public.

Thune asked for information from the NPS regarding its analysis that closing the Elk Mountain Campground, which generates revenue for the park, and reducing visitor center hours is more cost-effective than making targeted cuts elsewhere.

"It seems difficult to say with a straight face that completely eliminating a source of revenue for the National Park Service is a smart, targeted cut," Thune said in a release from his office. "Instead of cuts that reduce wasteful and duplicative spending, the administration's politically calculated cuts are targeting facilities like the campground that actually serve as a revenue source for the park. It appears NPS is just another agency following the White House's lead in trying to find the cuts that can trigger a press release before looking to internal cost-saving measures that are less newsworthy."

Wind Cave National Park Superintendent Vidal Davila said budget cuts forced the park to close the campground.

"The sequestration has forced us to make some tough decisions that will impact visitors to Wind Cave National Park," Davila said in a park statement. "People will have fewer opportunities to tour Wind Cave, the park's primary resource, as a result of less staff."

Davila said two summer maintenance employees and interpretive rangers who present evening campfire programs will not be needed now unless the campground re-opens.

Wind Cave National Park, located 10 miles north of Hot Springs at the southwestern edge of South Dakota, was formed in 1903 as the seventh national park. Its name comes from the air that escapes from the cave openings as weather changes.

In 2011, 6,600 visitors used the campground, and 1,700 visitors participated in campfire programs.

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