Painted Canyon overlook in ND to stay closed

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The popular Painted Canyon scenic overlook area in southwestern North Dakota is falling victim to federal spending cuts.

Officials at Theodore Roosevelt National Park announced this week that they have decided not to open the overlook along Interstate 94 in April because of the automatic federal spending cuts that took effect March 1.

"We had planned to have Painted Canyon open April 19-Oct. 31," park spokeswoman Eileen Andes said. "Because of budget cuts, it will be closed until further notice."

Nearly 300,000 vehicles stopped at the overlook just east of Medora last year. It features a majestic view of the North Dakota Badlands, as well as a visitor center.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven said Thursday he was working with Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis to come up with a way to keep the site open. The North Dakota Republican said his staff is organizing a Painted Canyon working group that will include representatives from the Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Medora mayor's office, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and state agencies, including the Tourism Division.

"Tourism today is one of our state's largest industries, and we appreciate Director Jarvis's understanding of that and his willingness to work with us," Hoeven said in a statement. "Working with him and the affected communities, we will try to find a way to keep this remarkable sight open so that North Dakotans and visitors from across the nation and around the world can enjoy the beauty of our Badlands."

It costs the park about $40,000 to run the overlook for a season, according to Andes, which includes the cost of three staffers, utilities and custodial supplies. That amount is less than 2 percent of the park's annual budget of $2.85 million, but the park has few options when it comes to making cuts, Andes said.

"The (overlook) closure is part of the overall budget cut of 5 percent," she said. "As we are a service agency, a vast majority of our budget is taken up by employee salaries and other fixed costs, such as utilities, supplies, fuel, etc. We have little other flexibility."

Hoeven said the Park Service needs to be creative and work with communities to find solutions. For example, he said, the agency could look to volunteers to manage the site or find a partner to jointly manage it.

Andes said the park has made other cuts, including leaving vacant positions unfilled, not filling seasonal positions, curtailing travel and limiting purchases.

"These cuts, though difficult, were made with much thought and consideration," she said.

"On the positive side, we still have 95 percent of our budget, the park is still open 365 days a year, both campgrounds, scenic drives, and all hiking trails remain open."

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