Shutdown Affects Local Parks

Jan 11, 2019

The partial federal government shutdown is affecting national parks around the country, and local parks are no exception. WMRA’s Bridget Manley reports.

[Ambient wind noise]

On this clear day in Shenandoah National Park, its quiet, cold, and nearly empty.

As the government shutdown enters its 21st day, employees of the national parks and forests in the area are furloughed or working without pay. And while the parks are still technically open, there are no bathrooms, book stores, or help if someone gets hurt or stranded.

But some visitors aren't deterred.  One hiker has stopped to take in the view near the Baldface Mountain Overlook. His name is Jeff, and he and his fellow hikers come to the park once a week from Richmond.

He says the trails are still clean and the park is pretty empty.

JEFF: I don’t think there’s too many people hiking at thirty degrees. (Laughing…)

REPORTER: How was the hike today?

JEFF: It was great.

REPORTER: What trail did you do?

JEFF: Uh, the Appalachian Trail, we started about eight miles up, and some guys are hiking eight miles, some ten, and some twelve.

Because it's winter, the effects of the shutdown are less than they otherwise might be.  The government employees and contractors who work in and around Shenandoah National Park, the George Washington National Forest, and Harpers Ferry Historical Park are grateful that the shutdown is at least happening during the winter months - typically when some of the park attractions and amenities are closed because of low turnout and weather.

It’s a lot different than other parks whose peak seasons are during the winter, such as the Everglades in Florida.

Greta Miller, Executive Director for the Shenandoah National Park Association, says that seasonal staff were already laid off for the winter months, and revenue doesn’t really pick up until college spring breaks begin in March.

The worry, however, is that a long term government shutdown could upset plans for springtime openings, festivals, and revenue.

Catherine Baldau is the Executive Director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association. She says that the town of Harpers Ferry will be affected if the park’s amenities and shops continue to remain closed.

CATHERINE BALDAU: Harpers Ferry is a gateway community. The park is attached to the town. So the park visitation really affects the local merchants - the restaurant and shop owners. So anytime there's a decline in park visitation, it’s gonna have a natural affect on businesses in town. Now, it is winter, so things do slow down dramatically in Harpers Ferry, but it still impacts the merchants. 

Alleyn Harned, Executive Director of Virginia Clean Cities, organized a trip last weekend into Shenandoah National Park with a group of Harrisonburg residents to pick up trash.

The team visited overlooks and campsites northbound between Route 33 and Big Meadows and were able to collect seven bags of trash.

ALLEYN HARNED: What was great about the community, is that a lot of people care about Shenandoah National Park. We see this as a really valued asset. We ran into two different individuals up there enjoying their day, and we also had some additional members of our community that cleaned up on their own, kind of separate from us, so a lot of people had this similar idea.

Harned says that while they are happy to help, his team of volunteers can’t do what the employees of the park can do.

HARNED: It’s the hope of everybody involved that this shutdown is over soon, so that folks can - folks can get back to work. There’s really no way for volunteers to fill in, and we are very appreciative of all the good work of all the park staff.

Baldau says that if the shutdown continues, programs and festivals at Harper's Ferry this spring will suffer.

BALDAU: This is the 75th anniversary of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and we have events planned all throughout the year beginning in February, so if the park is closed that might affect these great programs that we were hoping to provide for the public.

As far as airports locally, Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport reports that “travelers departing from [the] airport are not experiencing any TSA-related delays at this point,” according to Heather Ream, Director of Marketing & Communications.

For now, winter has helped curb the masses of tourists, but the shutdown still continues to hit the pockets of those who aren’t receiving a paycheck.