GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, N.C. - Law enforcement officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are turning to private fundraisers to try to find enough money to replace their outdated hand-held radios.
Most of the radios were bought in 2003 and are well past their typical 10-year lifespan. Some have stopped working in the middle of shifts, Smokies Chief Ranger Steve Kloster said.
"Luckily we have not had any life or death type incidents in which a ranger was in need of backup," Kloster told the Asheville Citizen-Times .
The park, which straddles North Carolina and Tennessee along the Appalachian Mountains, needs $1.3 million to replace the radios and $1.2 million to fix repeaters and transmitters to make sure signals reach throughout the rugged national park and surrounding jurisdictions, officials said.
Nonprofit group Friends of the Smokies is trying to raise $1.5 million for the radios with the federal government paying the rest.
The idea that private groups have to help raise money for important safety equipment bothers Phil Francis, a retired superintendent of the park and a member of the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks.
"When we get to the point of having to replace something that is a critical need and through donated funds, it's truly disturbing. To me, it's the role of the Congress. It seems the budget cuts have gone too far," Francis said.
The radios are only a small part of the delayed maintenance and other projects at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spokeswoman Dana Soehn said.
The park has $211 million in backlogged projects like repairing some of the 83-year-old park's 384 miles (618 kilometers) of roads and also needs to repair buildings and work on an aging wastewater system, Soehn said.
The park has no entrance fee and its annual budget is just under $19 million.
"We compete across the National Park Service for line-item and repair proposals. We're competing with other parks for funds because our operating budget is not able to support these projects," Soehn said.