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.
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 NPS.gov, 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
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.