By Zoe Francis

The East Bay's four national park sites will suffer budget cuts due to the sequestration that triggered across-the-board cuts throughout the country.

Two of the parks -- the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site in Danville and the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez -- will be open fewer days.

The O'Neill site had been open five days a week, which is changing to two days. The John Muir site had been open every day, and will now be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

This week, every national park was hit with a 5 percent budget cut, including in the East Bay, the O'Neill and John Muir sites and the, Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Memorial Park in Richmond and Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in Concord.

"These cuts are very different from other cuts we've had in the past," said Tom Leatherman of the National Park Service, general superintendent of the four sites. "What's different is that the cuts had to be taken at the park level.

"We've had cuts in the past, but overall, the agency was able to determine where to take the cuts."

The national sequestration mandated that each line item in the federal budget be hit with a 5 percent cut, Leatherman said. And every national park has its own line item in the budget.

"When we take the cuts at the individual park level, it has a bigger impact on the parks at the local level," he said.

Also, the sequester mandated that any open positions could not be filled. The biggest East Bay hit from that will be felt at the Eugene O'Neill and John Muir sites where three full-time jobs were open -- a ranger job at each site and a maintenance job at John Muir.

The Eugene O'Neill site, which includes the Tao House where O'Neill lived and worked, will only be open on Friday and Saturday. The site will, however, be open for any events, such as plays, scheduled before the cuts.

The John Muir site had expanded its schedule to be open seven days a week just two years ago.

The O'Neill site lost $34,000 of its $682,000 annual budget, while the Muir site lost $51,000 of its $1.013 million budget.

"This is one of the bigger cuts we've taken, but it's not unprecedented," said Leatherman. "What is unprecedented is that because of the way the cuts came, we had a lot less flexibility to minimize the impact of the cuts on visitors."

The parks also won't be able to hire seasonal help during busy summer months. which will impacting visitors' experience, said Gary Schaub, vice president of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, which plans park programs and events.

"We feel that budget squabbles in Washington and the inability of Congress to get its act together on funding the budget should not affect Americans from visiting their national parks," Schaub said.

"One of the wonderful things about the National Park Service is that you have these glorious national parks, but you also have a number of historic sites that have been preserved," Schaub said.

"In this case, (the O'Neill site is) the home of a literary genius who changed the face of American drama. He wrote his most famous plays while he lived at that house from 1938 to 1944."

Visitors may not notice an effect at the Rosie the Riveter and Port Chicago sites, Leatherman said. Those sites did not lose any full-time jobs. Thus, the biggest cuts will be felt in the number of community programs offered. Neither site is losing any open days.

"We're not able to offer as many events or do as many youth programs as we have in the past. It's unfortunate." he said. "These sites tell us about our history and provide some insight about what happened in the past."

The cuts are effective for the fiscal year that ends in mid-September, Leatherman noted. Beyond that, no one yet knows.

"I continue to be hopeful that we'll get some resolution and be able to go back to normal operations," he said. "... We've been doing a lot more to develop our arts and youth programs at the parks. This has really set us back."

LEARN MORE
To learn more about the East Bay's four national parks and hours of operation, visit www.nps.gov.