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End of shutdown opens up national parks in Eastern Sierra

October 18, 2013

Up until this past Wednesday, residents and visitors heading to recreation destinations in October were encountering closure notices, like this one in the Bishop Creek Drainage, at national parks and federally managed campgrounds. Photo courtesy Dave McCoy

Sixteen days and more than $24 billion in lost revenue and wages later, the U.S. government shutdown has ended with approval of a national spending plan that will be in place from now through Jan. 15.
Federal officials have also agreed to raise the nation’s debt limit through Feb. 7 to avoid defaulting on debt.
The end of the shutdown means workers deemed “non-essential” who were furloughed Oct. 1 have been allowed to return to work and the “non-essential” federal services that were shut down will resume.
Locally, the national parks are once again open to residents and travelers.
“After a 17-day shutdown, Congress has reached a short-term budget resolution that re-opens the federal government, including our 401 national parks and monuments,” National Parks Conservation Association Director of Media Relations Shannon Andrea said. “Unfortunately, for our national parks, and the communities, businesses and visitors they serve, the budget agreement is a short-term solution that does nothing to address the long-term needs of the parks.
Pierno added that the parks and the American people “need and deserve a genuine, long-term budget solution that keeps our parks completely open and ends the slow-motion shutdown that is occurring under the sequester.”
Death Valley National Park re-opened to visitors this past Wednesday and visitors had immediate access to public areas and roads.
“We are excited and happy to be back at work and welcome visitors to Death Valley National Park,” said Superintendent Kathy Billings. “Autumn is just the beginning of a particularly special season to enjoy all that Death Valley has to offer.”
Visitor facilities that have reopened include the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Texas Springs Campground, Mesquite Springs Campground, Stovepipe Wells Village, Scotty’s Castle and the park’s major scenic overlooks, and backcountry and wilderness.
“The economic impact of closing this park for 16 days has been extremely tough on our gateway communities, local businesses, neighbors, and park partners,” Billings said. “We look for ward to working with our neighbors and partners on ways to lesson that impact.”
Due to the shutdown, the opening of Furnace Creek Campground and Sunset Campground was delayed. In a press release, the park said it hoped to have the Furnace Creek Campground open by Friday, Oct. 25. It is hoped that Sunset Campground will be open by Monday, Oct. 21. “These are tentative dates; please check the park’s web page for updates at www.nps.gov/deva,” the press release states.
Several roads in Death Valley will remain closed due to flood damage from thunder storms this past summer. Visitors are encouraged to visit the park’s website for details about road closures.
Yosemite National Park also reopened Oct. 16.
“We are excited to reopen and welcome visitors back to Yosemite,” said Park Superintendent Don Neubacher. “Autumn is a particularly special season to enjoy Yosemite’s colorful grandeur.”
Major highways and roads leading into and through Yosemite National Park, including the Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove roads, are open to vehicles. Park visitor centers and ranger-led programs were scheduled to resume this past Thursday. Visitors are urged to consult the Yosemite Guide for a list of programs.
Valley campgrounds in Yosemite also re-opened Thursday and those with reservations were able to check in as of noon. First come, first serve sites at Camp Four, Wawona and Hodgdon are also now available.
Delaware North Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, Inc., the park’s primary concessionaire, is reopening facilities began to welcome guests to the park immediately following the re-opening of the park.
In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks many public areas have reopened to visitors, but annual seasonal closures will remain in effect.
“We are happy to be back at work to welcome the American public to their national parks,” said Superintendent Woody Smeck.
Smeck added that facilities will be reopened if they are scheduled to be open at this time of the year. However, facilities scheduled to be closed will remain closed.
Though the government is back to work, the long-term ramifications of the 16-day shutdown have yet to be fully evaluated.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, it is estimated that $152 million in travel spending was lost each day of the shutdown. According to the Association of National Park Service Retirees, $76 million was lost in daily visitor spending in national parks in 12 states.
According to the Labor Department, 358,000 unemployment claims were filed last week as thousands of furloughed government workers sought compensation.
Despite these numbers, some local residents and business owners have identified a silver lining to the shutdown, which drove many visitors from national parks and into local communities.
According to the Lone Pine and Bishop chambers of commerce and a number of local hotels and motels, visitation in the Owens Valley has been up.
Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce Membership Coordinator April Leeson said last week that walk-in visits at the Bishop Visitor Center had tripled since the shutdown went into effect Oct. 1.
The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce experienced a similar influx in visitors seeking information on local events and activities in lieu of visiting the national parks.
Leeson said visitors were looking for information about everything from local campsites that are still open, to the possibility of the parks re-opening. “We have several people each day that we sit down with and help them plan an itinerary so they don’t have to cancel their vacation,” Leeson said. “Basically, I think this has been an opportunity for us to show them what really is here for them to do. A lot of people don’t know about our fall colors, our lakes, hiking.”
Leeson said that the Bishop Visitor Center saw about 1,800 walk-ins in Septembber 2012
Billy Dalton, manager of the Trees Motel on West Line Street in Bishop, said Tuesday that business began to boom immediately following the government shutdown because visitors were being turned away from the national parks.
“I’ve had more people staying here because the parks are closed,” Daulton said. “The other day I had a group of guys who came in to cancel their reservations, but I told them about the Buttermilks and they decided to stay for five days.”
Daulton said that he and his staff are doing their best to promote local activities and attractions when visitors call or stop in to cancel reservations.
“Especially the hotels should be telling people about what they can do,” Daulton said. “If more people are talking about it, more people are going to stay. That’s one thing we can do, tell everybody about everything there is from Bodie on down.”
He added that nearly half of the customers who have called to cancel reservations have decided to stay after hearing that the Inyo National Forest and other local attractions are still available.

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