An estimated 10 inches of snow fell over Rocky Mountain National Park this weekend. Under normal circumstances, that would be cause for many Coloradans to rejoice: a chance to get out into the park on snowshoes or skis. But with the government shut down, the roads leading into and around the park were impassable because there were no government workers to plow them.
The senate just voted to reopen the government with 81 senators breaking the filibuster that shut it down, but the few days it was closed had an impact on visitors and surrounding businesses.
Many would-be visitors were confused, and unclear whether park gates were open or closed when they drove up. Colorado resident Kylie Baker posted her a photo on Twitter of the park being barricaded despite the park being open.
The National Parks Conservation Association estimates that almost one third of the 417 National Park Service sites were completely closed Saturday, while others were in a limbo-like state.
“Keeping parks open with virtually no staff is a risky situation, and the guidance park staff is being given is vague at best,” Theresa Pierno, the association’s president, told The Washington Post. “There is no substitute for National Park Service staff and their expertise, and it is not wise to put the public or our park resources at risk by allowing for half-measures to keep them open.”
Almost 21,000 park service employees were being furloughed, leaving about 3,200 "essential staff" to manage 80 million acres of national park lands, according to Los Angeles Times.
For a small business sitting on the outskirts of a national park, the government shut down is also bound to cause an impact.
Dave Watosky, general manager of Estes Mountain Shop right near Rocky Mountain National Park, says business definitely takes a negative turn with a shutdown.
He says people come into the shop to rent snowshoes or cross-country skis, and when they find out the park is closed, many times that doesn’t happen. And it’s not just the rental that is lost.
“When we lose a sale on a rental, we also lose a sale on a hat, gloves, hand warmers, pants, and more when a customer decides not to rent,” Watosky says.
Winter is a popular time at the store, he says. The store has 350 pairs of snow shoes and 100 pairs of skis that are for rent. In an attempt to keep customers happy and renting equipment, Watosky says the staff redirects customers to other areas.
“People are disappointed. We try to get them to another scenic area, but there’s a reason people want to go to national parks – they’re so damn pretty,” he says.
Even if visitors were able to drive the sketchy, unplowed roads, the park’s website was not updated to reflect conditions in the park, restrooms were cleaned, and entrance stations were unmanned.
In a statement released by the White House, the President said he is “pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses and are now willing to fund our great military, border patrol, first responders, and insurance for vulnerable children."
And, of course, our national parks and monuments.