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Sequestration cuts trim funds for Sagamore Hill, Fire Island

Fifteen employees at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

Fifteen employees at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site dug out porcelain berry and other invasive plants from the meadow of the historic cow pasture. (Dec. 3, 2011) Credit: Carl Corry

Long Island's two National Park Service sites are cutting back on staffing, hours and services to make up for mandatory federal spending cuts.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and Fire Island National Seashore have to cut their spending for the rest of the year to make up the 5 percent 2013 budget cut known as "sequestration."

Officials plan to keep Sagamore Hill on its winter schedule of closing buildings, but not the grounds, two days a week through the summer instead of opening seven days. The park is also slated to close on federal holidays -- including Memorial Day and July Fourth. In the past, the site has held special programs on those days.

And most special programs on the Cove Neck property are expected to be canceled, along with all off-site programs including guided tours of downtown Oyster Bay.

Fire Island National Seashore plans to reduce hiring, reduce lifeguard use, and close visitor centers two days a week.

Sagamore Hill took a $76,000 hit from its $1.5-million budget. Superintendent Thomas Ross said the reduction will mean furloughing three full-time employees in visitor and curatorial services for two weeks, not hiring three seasonal employees, and reducing work hours for all seasonal employees. The buildings are slated to open Wednesday through Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Spending for grounds maintenance, equipment, travel and training also is to be cut.

Ross said officials foresee no impact on the $7.2-million restoration of Theodore Roosevelt's mansion that started at the end of 2011 and is to continue until at least late 2014.

"It [sequestration] will impact our ability to serve the public as we have in the past," Ross said. But he added that "our rangers will be providing tours on site. And we'll do the best we can with the funds we have to continue carrying out our core mission, which is to serve the public and preserve and protect our resources."

Ross said the park had already taken a $40,000 budget cut because the closed main house no longer collects $5 tour fees, a portion of which would have covered the cost of some of the park's permanent and seasonal staff.

That loss combined with the sequester cuts "represents 8 percent of our previous budget," Ross said. "That's a considerable amount."

At Fire Island, the $4.8-million budget was cut by $241,731. No furloughs are planned, spokeswoman Paula Valentine said. But park officials will not fill a vacant permanent law enforcement ranger post, and they intend to hire 27 rather than 29 seasonal employees.

As a result, the park's visitor centers are slated to be closed Mondays and Tuesdays instead of having seven-day operation in the summer, Valentine said.

Lifeguard scheduling will be finalized Wednesday, but park officials have decided there will be no lifeguards at Talisman/Barrett Beach this year because of budget cuts before sequestration. Park officials are looking at starting lifeguards the weekend before July Fourth and eliminating lifeguards on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at all remaining guarded beaches.

National seashore officials also plan to reduce employee training and travel.

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