Federal government shutdown causes lack of access to Northwest parks
The federal government shutdown is now in its second week, causing trash to pile up and outhouses to overflow at national parks in the Southwest. But here in the Pacific Northwest, a lack of park personnel is causing access issues.
Rob Smith, northwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, says many popular destinations — from beaches to mountaintops — can't be reached right now because maintenance crews are off duty as a result of the shutdown.
That means downed trees, other debris and snow caused by harsh winter weather blocks access.
“So they can’t clear the way to go out to the beach at Rialto Beach, which is very popular for the Olympics,” Smith said. “Or there’s no one to plow the road up to Hurricane Ridge out of Port Angeles — or up to Paradise on Mount Rainier.”
Destinations at lower elevations have been accessible, such as Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park. The lodge there has kept the road open. But there have been reports of large crowds and limited restrooms. Plus, businesses around the parks say income and bookings are down.
Despite hampered access, the Pacific Northwest isn’t experiencing issues as a result of crowds, since winter weather means fewer visitors. National parks in the Southwest, however, have experienced an accumulation of trash and other problems at places such as Joshua Tree and Yosemite — in warmer regions where people are more likely to flock to the outdoors this time of year.
Still, the lack of access is troublesome for communities surrounding places such as Mount Rainier.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who represents Washington's 6th Congressional District, stresses that the effects of the government shutdown go beyond a disruption in recreation for park-goers.
“For example, in Olympic National Park, the skiing on Hurricane Ridge, which was supposed to have already started, has been delayed as a consequence of the shutdown,” Kilmer said. “And you know that has an impact not just for folks who want to go up on the ridge and have fun — and it has an impact certainly on park rangers. But it also has an impact on the local economy.”
Kilmer points to a previous shutdown from several years ago, when a local hotelier reportedly lost about half a month of reservations; a year later, it was still working to dig out of the hole that resulted from the cancellations.
“And then beyond that there’s the impacts more broadly to the local economy,” Kilmer said. “And I think there’s real cause for concern about that.”
He added there also are other impacts you can’t see, such as the delay of maintenance projects.
Recently, The News Tribune reported on the shutdown’s impact on local businesses in Ashford and Elbe, towns located in the foothills of Mount Rainier. The consensus?
“It sucks,” local bartender Delta Saterdal told the newspaper. “It definitely sucks.”