Budget cuts: Cleaning up not included

Visitors to the Table Rocks and other federal Bureau of Land Management recreation sites in Southern Oregon will have to pack their own trash out this summer as the federal sequester's budget cuts and hiring freezes have reduced recreation staff levels.

The BLM's popular Table Rocks interpretive hikes have been cut by 20 percent and two of the agency's four campgrounds will see delayed openings as the agency looks to address recreation needs with less than half the normal summer staff.

The Hyatt Lake Complex campground remains closed, but part of it is slated to open some time next week. The two ramps on the lake's south end remain open because they offer the only ramp access to the popular fishing lake off Highway 66 east of Ashland.

Garbage cans have been removed from the parking lots and trailheads at Upper and Lower Table Rocks because the thread-bare crews won't be able to keep up with emptying them, said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the BLM's Medford District.

Hikers and campers can expect to hear the pack-out-your-trash mantra all summer long.

"The more people pack out their trash, the less stress it puts on our small workforce and the easier it is to justify keeping these places open," Whittington said.

The BLM's Rand Visitor Center, where rafters get permits to float the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River, is staffed largely with full-time employees who will keep the permits process afloat, Whittington said.

The federal sequester's across-the-board budget cuts and hiring freeze earlier this year came as the district had hired fewer than 20 of the more than 60 summer seasonal workers who help manage the district's recreation sites. The sites include more than a dozen trails, four campgrounds, seven waysides or overlooks, and other amenities in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The district recently sought and won waivers to hire nine additional summer employees, who will be added in the coming weeks, said Jeanne Klein, who heads the BLM's Medford District recreation program.

Whittington characterized the funding dilemma as "a chronic issue, not a major illness" that he hoped could be handled to the public's satisfaction.

"We're re-arranging some of the staff we have," Whittington said. "We're trying to mitigate this as much as possible."

The Hyatt Lake Complex has been a prime example of how the BLM is shifting plans to stretch the agency's recreation dollars.

The campground normally opens before late April's start of the spring fishing season at Hyatt Lake, but only the ramps and parking lot were open for anglers this year while the bathrooms remained shuttered.

Klein said she plans to open some sites next week and phase more in as new seasonal workers are hired.

"That's how we're going to try to deal with it and keep some service to the public this summer," Whittington said.

The 11-site Elderberry Flat Campground along the West Fork of Evans Creek has not opened this year and will remain closed for the immediate future, Klein said.

Most of the summer recreation seasonal workers make about $10 to $13 an hour, based on their pay grades, Whittington said.

Most of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest campgrounds are run primarily by independent concessionaires who contract with the forest.

The sequester does not affect state or Jackson County recreation programs.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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