Government Shutdown Hits National Parks

Oct 1, 2013

At national parks across the country visitors have been turned away, camping trips and even weddings canceled because of the federal government shutdown. In addition to fewer park visitors, it means fewer customers at local restaurants, hotels and stores. In Arizona, Grand Canyon river trips have been canceled or postponed.

If the government shutdown lasts a month, as some suspect it will, Grand Canyon river outfitters estimate a million dollars in total lost revenue.

"It's substantial," said Alex Thevenin, general manager of Arizona Raft Adventures in Flagstaff. "We're going to have to get a loan to cover our winter operating expenses. The financial ramifications for this company as a small business operating in northern Arizona are immense. But also there are 18 people that just flew in from Alaska that aren't going to go on their trip of a lifetime."

Those 18 people are now trying to come up with a Plan B.

"My initial reaction was of course not! We always go," Georgia Gustafson said. She just flew in from Anchorage with 17 friends for what would be her eighth Grand Canyon river trip. She's retired, but her friends had to request time off work and they all paid for airfare.

"In the grand scheme of things any pain that I feel or loss is nothing compared to people in the travel industry the people whose lives here in Flagstaff and here in Arizona depend on the Grand Canyon," Gustafson said.

It could have a big impact on people like Lorna Corson, who has been a Arizona Raft Adventure guide for 35 years.

"I'll lose my paycheck," Corson said. "Then I will also lose the number of hours I need for profit sharing for the year from the company. That's another few thousand dollars. So it ends up being a quarter of my annual income that I'm losing. So it's not just government people who are impacted. It's private sector quite a bit too."

Around the country businesses that rely heavily on park tourism are already suffering. The National Parks Conservation Association says the federal government shutdown costs local communities as much as $30 million each day national parks are closed. Meanwhile the National Park Service says the impact could be twice that.

Phil Francis, the former superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, said crowds of people enjoy the fall foliage at parks this time of year.

"To have it happen in October is like closing a shopping mall at Christmas time," Francis said.

Francis said the shutdown hits hard on top of the recent federal budget cuts. The budget for operating national parks has dropped 13 percent in the last three years.

"Parks generate billions of dollars in tourism revenue every year," said Theresa Pierno, the acting president of the National Parks Conservation Association. "It's just not fiscally responsible to move and to take this action now, especially given the hardships they've already faced with the sequester."

Many programs and employees were cut in the spring due to the across the board federal budget cuts known as the sequester. Eighty five percent of the 20,000 Park Service employees have been furloughed until the shutdown lifts. At the Grand Canyon park entrance, spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said campers and hikers have been turned away.

"We have a lot of international visitors that we've turned away this morning," Oltrogge said. "One from Japan that wasn't able to get into the park and had traveled thousands of miles and had spent quite a bit of money to get here."

As for river rafter Gustafson and her friends from Alaska, they are still hoping the shutdown lifts and they will be able to go on their river trip a day or two late.

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