Although it was a snowy day, the staff at Scotts Bluff National Monument was busy getting ready for the 2011 tourism season, which is just around the corner.
“This is the time of year we do a lot of planning for the summer and getting the programs set up,” said Chief Ranger Mark Davison. “Music at the Monument and our Tuesday evening speakers are being scheduled. And once we have the budget figured out, we’ll see some hiring.”
Allocations for the National Park Service as part of the federal budget have been extended by Continuing Resolution of Congress, which expire in March.
“We’re not getting much information from Washington on how to plan,” said Scotts Bluff National Monument Superintendent Ken Mabery. “We’re planning contingencies but not doing anything definitive until we know more. Our budget isn’t flush, but it does have some flexibility. We still have ways of getting things done.”
Mabery added that even when the budget is known, the staff isn’t planning anything extravagant, as every government agency will be working on a tight budget over the next few years.
“We do know the park will be open every day and rangers will be here during the season,” Davison said. “Even when there are cutbacks, the public usually don’t see them.”
Davison has recently updated the monument’s reference library, giving them increased research opportunities to present updated and better programs.
This week also marks the first meeting of the season for staff charged with publishing the Prairie Sun, the park’s newspaper that outlines events for the season. Now in its second year, Prairie Sun promotes events at the monument, as well as Agate Fossil Beds and Fort Laramie in Wyoming.
“The comments I did receive were appreciative that he had a newspaper where people could lay out their summer schedules for visiting the parks,” Mabery said.
Attendance at the monument for the 2010 season was up about 10 percent over the previous year. The most recent tourism season also saw the monument’s largest single day of visitation in recent years. With no special events scheduled, the monument saw 525 visitors on that one weekday.
One thing visitors will notice later this spring will be the arrival of a team of fiberglass oxen, which will be mounted in front of the Conestoga covered wagon on display in front of the monument visitor center.
“This will provide some visual representation of what it was like to see a wagon moving across the prairie,” Davison said. “The oxen are in storage now and should be set up by May.”
Another project that will take place this season is restoring the summit road. All the black tar will be pulled out of the roadway cracks and replaced with a sealant whose color blends in with the pavement. Mabery said there will be some disruption in traffic to the top of the monument, but it will be kept to a minimum.
“In the long term, we’ll have a road that’s much better in appearance, will be smoother and last much longer than current tar sealant, which has to be replaced every couple of years.”
Also, a steering committee has been formed to discuss events to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the National Park Service on Aug. 25.