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Park Service under fire for spending

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Updated: 5/22/2013 6:13 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hours reduced, gates locked: This holiday weekend, national parks are being squeezed by some severe federal budget cuts.

But there are complaints the National Park Service is still squandering tax money -- on trips, travel and fun for its own staff and executives.

The U.S. Interior Department posted a video warning about the strict budget cuts it's facing.

The video states "those cuts will mean reduced operation, shorter season and the possible closure of campgrounds."

We found at some parks reduced tours and unfilled ranger and maintenance positions.

Despite all the closed gates and reductions at parks nationwide, we dug deeper and found the National Park Service still spending money to wine and dine its own staff rather than plowing the money into the parks.

About 100,000 federal transportation tax dollars will be spent to send employees to a June conference in Dayton: a conference on covered bridges which a spokesman says includes sessions about keeping those bridges safe.

But it also includes a hog roast and a covered bridges tour.

The Park Service is sending about 10 staffers to an outdoor recreation conference in Michigan, which -- along with many training sessions for staff -- includes a wine-tasting event.

A group representing park service workers says the agency is also coughing up $12 million on PR work for its 100th birthday celebration.

"Spending $12 million to celebrate the centennial, while laying off thousands of people, sends disastrous mixed signals," said Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The Park Service acknowledges spending money on marketing.

A spokeswoman says these events are valuable.

"The Department of the Interior has already taken aggressive steps to reduce spending across the agency and will continue to look for innovative ways to cut costs," said the spokeswoman.

The Park Service says the 100th centennial will raise more money than it costs.The U.S. Interior Department says it has reduced "seasonal" summertime hiring because of the budget crunch.

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