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Around The Shutdown: Lodging Blues, Apologize To The Ranger, Oil Keeps Flowing


As the partial shutdown of the federal government moved past its third day, news tied to the National Park System didn't evaporate. A glance around the system shows hard times for lodging concessions, a particularly outspoken congressman, and questions about websites and oil production.

* Lodging Blues

As the government's idleness drags on, it's exacting a severe financial toll from the major park concessionaires. Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which operates in Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake, Death Valley, and Rocky Mountain national parks, loses just about $1 million in revenues every day the parks remain closed. That number does not include the ongoing overhead in the form of utilities and employee wages.

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The Old Faithful Inn is a relatively quiet place these days. Xanterra Parks & Resorts photo.

While Xanterra isn't able to guarantee work and pay for its employees, it is providing lodging and meals for up to three weeks, either free or at a nominal fee, depending on whether those employees are working during the shutdown. Salaried staff are receiving pay for three weeks.

While the Furnace Creek Resort Xanterra runs at Death Valley National Park is actually located on private property and not required to shut down, some guests with reservations are phoning in cancellations, which is understandable when you realize the surrounding park is technically closed to visitors. Xanterra also is seeing cancellations for its train that runs from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, and for its Grand Hotel in nearby Tusayan, Arizona.

ARAMARK Parks and Destinations, meanwhile, has an interesting situation at Olympic National Park, where it operates at Lake Crescent Lodge, Sol Duc Hot Springs, and Lake Quinault Lodge. While Lake Crescent and Sol Duc are inside the park, and so closed during the shutdown, Lake Quinault is just outside the park's southern boundary in the Olympic National Forest and remains open for business.

The lodge's occupancy has been hovering around 50 percent  -- more on weekends, less on weekdays -- and is open year-round. You can check availability and make a reservation at this page. While you won't be able to enter the park unless the government gets back to work, there are lots of trails in the national forest to explore and enjoy.

* Apologize To The Ranger

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, confronted a park ranger at the the World War II Memorial on the National Mall on Wednesday and got a bit outspoken in condemning the Park Service's handling of veterans wanting to visit the memorial.

Some visitors to the memorial took exception to the congressman's verbal tongue-lashing of the ranger, and complained that while the ranger was merely doing her job, Congress was failing at its.

The exchange between the Republican and the ranger, led to suggestions that people outraged by the congressman's behavior post "Apologize to the ranger" messages on his Facebook page.

* About Those Park Websites

It didn't take the National Park Service long to pull the plug on its park websites once the shutdown took effect. Some Internet surfers might wonder what the deal was, particularly when you consider 1) most of the content on park web pages is static, not posted daily, and 2) U.S. Forest Service websites were still operating.

Michael Litterest, a Park Service spokesman in Washington, said the decision to shutter the websites stemmed from the personnel needed to maintain them on a daily basis.

"All of the websites for the (Interior Department) bureaus are maintained in-house by our employees. Since all of those employees have been furloughed, there is no one to maintain, and with approximately 1 million hits per day, the site would crash without daily maintenance," he wrote in an email. "By contrast, some government agencies contract the maintenance of their sites and would be able to keep their sites live since the contractors wouldn't be affected by the shutdown.

"Of course, the sites were not taken down, per se; the pages still exists, we just added a service level redirect," he added. "The costs of that were negligible; essentially, it is the time that it takes to build a single page. That work was done by our Washington staff on Tuesday morning as part of the shutdown procedures before they went home."

* Oil Production From The Parks

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Gas production rolls on in the park system despite the shutdown. NPS photo of well at Padre Island National Seashore.

There are a small number of park system units where oil and gas production is not only allowed, but in operation. Big Thicket National Preserve and Padre Island National Seashore are two such units.

While those park units closed with the shutdown, the production did not cease.

"Oil and gas production is operated under a right-of-way, which conveys the legal right to access the sites, regardless of the status of appropriations," explained the Park Service's Mr. Litterest.





And think, if all those Parks had reverted to the states - they would be open now ;).

And maybe not. Just a few examples:

"California Gov. Jerry Brown, whose state is home to 26 national park units, from Yosemite to Death Valley to Point Reyes National Seashore, said no state money will be offered to keep the gates open."

"Not only are there a lot of parks, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, but California's budget is finally balanced after years of multi-billion-dollar deficits, and can't afford the expense."

The track record of some states in terms of funding their own parks hasn't been encouraging in recent years:

During the peak of the tourist season in 2011, due to its own government shutdown stalemate, the State of Minnesota closed all of its 66 state parks. "Park staff closed up facilities, shut off water and electricity, and told visitors it was time to leave."

March 2010: "Arizona's parks system is limping into the next fiscal year with few assurances it will exist after June 30, the result of lawmakers reducing its budget by nearly 80 percent since 2007.

In California every year since 2008, the closing of numerous state parks has been announced, then delayed, then threatened again. The California State Park Foundation says, "Over the recent decades, enacted budgets have provided only short-term budget relief and lacked the forethought for future generations. As a result, the state parks system now endures constant underfunding and erratic funding proposals."

Monuments and memorials remained open during previous shutdown

Kurt - its not an issue of hiding anything. It is closing things that don't need to be closed only because it will inclict the most visable pain.

Of course, the fact that small factions in the House of Representatives (and the rest of the Congress as a whole for not pushing back) forced all this pain and difficulty is a trivial point.

You conveniently omit that the House Republicans overwhelmingly voted to fund the Parks and the VA with no strings attached. The House Democrats voted overwhelmingly to keep them shut.

Techically, EC, the Park Service owns the Pisgah Inn and leases it out to concessionaires, so it would appear closing it down is no different than closing the Old Faithful Inn or the Ahawahnee Hotel down.

Jim - Some valid points. Thats three states out of 52 (or is it 57??) or 6% that might be affected and only 1 that actual was. What percent of the Federal Parks are closed? More than 100% since they are shutting down private businesses as well.

C'mon, EC, if the House Republicans were so concerned about the parks and the VA they would have approved the CR without strings in the first place. No, this was just a PR-seeking gambit they turned to after they realized their faux pas and read the public outrage.

And why should the Dems give in to this charade? What will the demands be in two weeks?

So "technically" shutting down the Pisgah Inn cost the government money. There is no excuse to close any park facility that has no daily operating expenses (that need funding) and even less to close a facility that is generating revenues - lease fees.

How do you justify shutting the US WWII cemetaries in Europe - which have $80 million in operating funds already allocated, but keep Obama's golf course at Andrews Airforce base open? Oh, thats right, there are far more people that visit those cemetaries than play golf with Obama.

Jim - Some valid points. Thats three states out of 52 (or is it 57??) or 6% that might be affected and only 1 that actual was

Good grief, ec, you're always asking for sources. I gave you some valid examples; there's hardly space (nor is it appropriate) to expect a comment be a term paper.

As to "who's to blame" for the mess, there's plenty to go around, but here's an interesting take from tonight's NBC news. That story raises the belief that if Republican House Speaker Boehner would just allow a simple "yes" or "no" vote on a "clean" continuing resolution - one without any conditions - it has a good chance of passage ... and the shutdown would be over.

Boehner has so far refused to allow such a vote. Until he does so, it's pretty hard not to put the blame on the Republican leadership. The reason for his refusal, as this story explains, is raw politics: Boehner's fear that he will lose his position as Speaker.

C'mon, EC, if the House Republicans were so concerned about the parks and the VA they would have approved the CR without strings in the first place.

They rightfully have priorities well beyond the parks. You think the entire Federal spending should hinge on ones support of the parks? The truth is, when it came down to who was in favor of funding the parks it was the Republicans with the Ayes and the Democrats with the Nays.

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