SHERIDAN — Bighorn National Forest managers announced Wednesday that a budget shortfall has led to the decision not to open the Burgess Junction Visitor Center in 2013.
The center is located 50 miles west of Sheridan at the junction of U.S. Highways 14 and 14A.
“This visitors center has been struggling financially for a couple of years,” forest spokeswoman Susan Douglas said. “We just didn’t have enough to keep all three centers open this summer.”
The Forest Service also maintains information centers at Shell Falls and Medicine Wheel.
In past years, the Burgess facility was funded by a combination of Forest Service appropriated funds and a portion of merchandise sales. Annual operating costs ran about $70,000 to cover employee salaries, volunteer stipends, utilities and maintenance of the grounds.
Douglas said the center’s one salaried employee and its team of volunteers will be transferred to the Shell Falls Center this season.
She added that while recent efforts such as replacing some salaried Forest Service employees with volunteers had been undertaken in an attempt to reduce expenses, costs have continued to rise while funding levels stayed flat. The decision to close the center was unrelated to the threat of federal sequestration cuts.
“We don’t like having to do this…but we can’t pay for everything,” Douglas said.
Services and exhibits provided at the newly-renovated Shell Falls Interpretive Site, on U.S. Highway 14 in Shell Canyon, and the Medicine Wheel Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark, located on U.S. Highway 14A about 25 miles west of Burgess, will continue to operate as usual.
The Forest Service will also continue to maintain the nearly 20-year-old Burgess Junction Center throughout the summer. It is unknown whether the facility will reopen in subsequent years. Douglas said Forest Service officials have considered renting the space to area lodges and resorts among other potential uses.
Since opening in 1994, the center has typically operated between Memorial Day weekend and early October. Forest Service officials estimated that, in a normal year, about 50,000 people passed through its doors.