Visitors, businesses and students affected by government shutdown
By Nash Kurilko
When the Republican-controlled House shut down the government, nobody knew how long it would last or what the immediate effects would be. It was only when 59 national parks across America began closing that most citizens—and tourists—realized the full ramifications of the shutdown.
Marin Headlands, Muir Woods National Monument, Bolinas Ridge, Stinson Beach, and Point Reyes National Seashore were among the Bay Area parks included in the closure. Of Marin’s 332,928 acres, 118,669 are parks, reservoirs, or conservation areas. When the national parks closed, nearly 30 percent of Marin was off-limits to the public.
The effect on local tourism was devastating. According to a February 2013 report issued by the National Park Service, Point Reyes, Muir Woods and the Golden Gate National Seashore generate $445 million a year in total revenue, and employ roughly 3,400 people.
“The shutdown of the national parks is causing considerable losses to both the federal government and the U.S. economy. The National Park Service is losing approximately $450,000 a day during the shutdown,” said National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst in a statement during the shutdown. Litterst noted that $300,000 was lost in admission fees, and an additional $150,000 from other in-park fees, including campground lots, boat rentals, and even cave tours. Basically, anything that a potential tourist could pay for at a national park was factored into the estimate.
“Local communities around national parks are losing approximately $76 million in lost visitor spending each day for as long as the shutdown continues,” Litterst said while the shutdown was still in effect.
Tourism aside, the closures have disrupted simple operations like College of Marin field trips. Intensive English Program (IEP) professor Sara Oser was planning on taking her class to Alcatraz Island, but found that there were no ferries running from San Francisco to the island.
“I told the students, I’d heard about it on the radio and from friends and family,” Oser said, regarding the park’s shutdown. “Then I called Alcatraz to see if that was true. They were happy not to charge my credit card for the 35 tickets I had ordered for October 4.”
Oser talked to COM Director of International Education Jason Lau about the debacle, and they decided to take the ferry from Larkspur Landing to the new Exploratorium in San Francisco, and then spend time at Fisherman’s Wharf. The students had the option of taking the ferry back or returning by their own means.
“[We were] very disappointed, because the weather has been so beautiful and Alcatraz is a very special place because of its history, geography, cell tour, movies, exhibits. The ersatz field trip was great, though. Everything went smoothly,” Oser said about the government shutdown.
“I think our representatives need to understand that it is in our country’s best interest to make medical care more available to its citizens,” she said of the political deadlock. “It’s what a caring country does for its citizens.”
The inconvenience to COM students and faculty extended to tourists nationwide.
The Association of National Park Service Retirees estimated that some 7 million visitors were shut out of parks nationwide during the first 10 days of the shutdown. During that time, they claim $750 million dollars in revenue were lost.
Unlike other states, Sacramento refused to appropriate funds from the state treasury in order to reopen the state’s national parks.
On a good October day, Point Reyes National Seashore typically sees about 8,000 sightseers and tourists, who spend around $93 million a year in towns and locations along the national seashore. Point Reyes, Muir Woods and the Golden Gate National Recreational Area generated $445 million dollars in 2011, and according to a 2012 report issued by Michigan State University, Muir Woods National Monument had 897,000 visitors who spent $61.7 million locally.
“While we have a state budget that is balanced, it is balanced by a narrow margin, and there are a number of pressures to the budget that are not under the state’s control that have the potential to move that balanced budget out of balance,” California Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Even if the state were to front general funds for this, or for any other program for that matter, the executive branch cannot unilaterally guarantee that the state would be reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs. It would require an act of Congress to do that.”
But with parks closed, and people illegally entering any way they can, it begs the question—who was policing inside closed national parks?
Jeffrey Saarman, a student at College of Marin in the early 1970s, has been hiking in West Marin for decades. Abbotts Lagoon is his favorite trail in Point Reyes. He was worried about what might go on inside parks without ranger patrols.
“We all know that not only the national, but the state parks have been used as… ‘pot havens,’ and the growing of marijuana by cartels, and if we can’t control it [due to the shutdown], then yeah, I would definitely say we need to be funding [the parks] through the state,” Saarman said. He views the political deadlock in Washington as part of a larger socioeconomic struggle, one that has prevented him from walking “safely on land I’ve walked on for 60 years of my life.”
Asked about the shutdown in Washington, Saarman said he didn’t place blame on either political party centered in the dispute.
“Both the Democrats and the Republicans have an entrenchment, and neither of them are representing compromise,” he said. “Neither of them are being an adult for compromise. And I think that the difficulty that arises is that they’re not working out of a paradigm of cooperation, they’re working out of a blame situation, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ And it’s not about being right or wrong, or making somebody wrong, or throwing a fit when you’re not getting your way.
“It’s really about listening to everybody out there. I think it’s time for us as individuals to rise against our government, to force them to consolidate and act like adults and human beings. We’re not seeing it at all in Washington, and it’s very frustrating on my end, trying to not only do business, but to recreate myself by walking in Point Reyes National Seashore.”
Nora Halloran, an environmental science and natural history major at COM, worked as an Interpretive Intern at the Marin Headlands throughout the spring and summer of 2011. She ran the visitor center and acted as a tour guide at the decommissioned NIKE missile site. She also worked as an education intern at Muir Woods National Monument from January through the summer of 2012.
“Without a doubt, the eight months I worked at Muir Woods were the best and most fulfilling of my entire life” she said. “There are no words to describe the experience or how much I grew to love that park. The last day of my internship, I stayed an hour past my shift and walked through the forest in tears. You can’t imagine how incredible it was to spend five days a week for eight months in such a beautiful and enchanting place as this. I came to love it as my home.”
As a former employee, she was troubled by the closure of the parks.
“The list of consequences seems endless for the American people,” Halloran said. “It is extremely frustrating to know that members of congress still receive pay, while almost all my teachers and mentors in the National Park Service were sent home without pay on furlough.
“It angers my heart to read in the newspaper about government workers, some of whom are veterans, being ordered to continue reporting to work and being paid on IOUs. Many of these men and women live paycheck-to-paycheck, and have landlords to pay that don’t accept the ridiculous IOU system the government [has been] using.”
Point Reyes reopened on October 17, when Congress passed the budget – exactly two weeks and three days after the closures began.
“We’re in the business of welcoming people into parks, and we’re really happy to be back in business,” said Point Reyes National Seashore Superintendant Cicely Muldoon, who took classes in Marine Biology at College of Marin. She personally had to turn people away from the entrance to the Bear Valley headquarters of the national seashore during the closure.
Many people feel that the government shutdown and the subsequent closure of the national parks set a dangerous precedent. The concern is that next time there is a budget impasse, the parks may fall victim again.