By Ann McCreary
The 16-day federal government shutdown that ended last week had wide-ranging local and regional impacts, affecting not only furloughed government workers but also students, vacationers, restaurant and lodge employees, and teachers.
The shutdown forced the closure of U.S. Forest Service offices and a temporary halt to most activities of the Methow Ranger District. National parks across the country were closed, including the North Cascades National Park Complex.
The trickle-down effect of the shutdown can be seen in its impacts on the North Cascades Institute (NCI), a private nonprofit organization that operates an Environmental Learning Center in the North Cascades National Park on Diablo Lake.
With the mandatory closure of the North Cascades National Park Complex, the Learning Center was also forced to suspend operations, said Christian Martin, NCI communications coordinator.
“The closure … forced us to cancel four different Mountain School sessions, impacting more than 300 students, teachers and parent chaperones,” said Martin. “The dysfunction in Washington, D.C., also meant that we had to furlough nine staff members, shut down our five bookstores, cancel a nature journaling class, a luncheon for Skagit Tours, a yoga retreat and two group rental contracts for staff retreats, and cancel or return food deliveries from local farms.”
“All in all,” Martin said this week, “we estimate that we’ve lost $65,000 in revenue over these past two weeks.”
Ross Lake Resort, which operates 15 floating cabins on Ross Lake, was forced to send about 30 guests home when the North Cascades National Park Complex shut down, said Will Shields, a manager at the resort.
“We were fully booked for the days of the shutdown,” Shields said. Cabins at the resort, which can only be reached by boat or by hiking in, are usually booked months in advance. “We run close to 99 percent occupancy,” Shields said.
The resort is a private business that operates as a concessionaire within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, part of the North Cascades park complex, Shields said.
“It really hurt our business,” Shields said. “We had to lay off most of our staff, close to a dozen people – housekeepers, dock staff, truck drivers [who shuttle passengers and gear)].”
Shields said the financial damage to the resort “is probably close to $50,000.”
A couple of employees had to stay on site to make sure the cables that anchor the floating cabins to the shore were properly adjusted to accommodate changes in the lake’s water level, Shields said.
Most of the resort employees returned to work when Congress voted to end the shutdown on Oct. 17, but some had found other jobs during the layoff. “So we’re short about two people,” Shields said.
“We’re not the only place where concessionaires have been hurt like this, it’s everywhere,” said Shields. “We’re just small business owners.”
At the North Cascades Lodge in Stehekin, also part of the national park complex, 21 of the lodge’s 28 rooms were booked during the shutdown, and had to be refunded, said Charlene Green, reservations manager. She said she issued “over $20,000 in refunds.”
As at Ross Lake Resort, “a majority of the employees were laid off,” Green said. “They lost the last two weeks of work.”
Because the North Cascades Lodge changes to a winter schedule in mid-October, with only seven rooms open and reduced restaurant service, the lodge lost a critical business period, she said.
“We took a big financial hit because those last two weeks are the last chance of being able to fill it up. That was our last hurrah,” Green said.
At the Methow Valley Ranger district, the largest federal employer in the valley, most employees were furloughed during the fall hunting season and campgrounds were closed during one of the busiest times of year for the district. The impacts of lost revenue as a result of the shutdown may be felt next year, Forest Service officials said.
“The most tangible impact for the [district’s] recreation department was that our 25 campgrounds were closed for 16 days during the busy fall season,” said Jennifer Zbyszewski, recreation, wilderness and facilities program manager. She was among the employees furloughed.
“The outhouses on the trailheads along the North Cascades Scenic Highway were also locked since there was no one to clean them,” Zbyszewski said.
“In past years, we have typically collected approximately $10,000 during the month of October, between campground fees and Recreation Pass sales, so this loss of revenue may impact our recreation program next summer,” she said.
Campground closures were indicated by signs and surveyors tape, but that didn’t keep people from camping there during hunting season, said Methow District Ranger Mike Liu.
“There were several campsites where people respected the closures, and some that were full. Buck Lake was full,” he said. Since there were no Forest Service employees to collect fees, camping was free.
Theft and damages
Liu and a few Forest Service law enforcement officers patrolled Forest Service lands and campgrounds during the shutdown. Liu said he instructed officers “to make sure individuals understood the closure … but not to issue citations or tickets.” He said they also encouraged people to leave the campsites clean.
The closure signs for the campsites were intentionally easy to get past, Liu said. “If we had made it more difficult, likely we would have seen more damage to government facilities,” he said.
He said there didn’t appear to be many sanitation issues despite the fact that restrooms were locked, “since a lot of hunters are self-contained with campers.”
In addition to lost campground revenues, the government shutdown also meant no permits were sold for firewood cutting or mushroom collection. It also resulted in lost productivity and some property damage and theft, Liu said.
Two batteries owned by the Forest Service were stolen from electric fences used to keep cattle out of sensitive areas on range allotments. In addition, a Forest Service vehicle at the headquarters in Winthrop was broken into and tools and equipment were stolen, Liu said. This is the first time a theft like this has occurred at the headquarters, he said.
“These are supplies we’re going to have to replace,” he said.
Lost productivity and postponed work will be a lingering effect of the shutdown, Liu said.
“With such brilliant weather, it really robbed our ideal fall days to be doing a lot of field work,” such as monitoring range land, timber sale reconnaissance and layout, and controlled burning, Liu said.