October 1st, 2013

disney - ariel facepalm

Government Shutdown, Day the First

Due to the fact that our dear Congress can't get its f*cking act together, the government shutdown is in effect. The most direct impact that has on life out here in Boulder is that the national parks are closed. This morning, we called around to the various local parks (Zion, Bryce and Capital Reef) to find out what this meant. Visitor centers are closed. Facilities (bathrooms, campgrounds, concessions, etc) are closed. Internal park roads are closed. Trails are closed. Bryce Canyon has locked the entrance gates. Sometimes a park can't be sealed up. For example, Highway 24 goes straight through Capital Reef, and obviously the NPS can't close down a highway, so they've blocked trailheads and even some of the scenic turnouts so that they can't be used. If you're caught in the parks by a law enforcement ranger – they are considered essential and they're still on duty, folks! - you can be hit with a nasty fine.

Some of the parks have staff stationed at the entrances to help redirect visitors; others do not. If you have campground reservations, they are canceled. Sure, you'll be refunded, but in the meantime visitors have to scramble to find somewhere else to stay. It isn't just the National Park campgrounds that are closed. The two main campgrounds in Boulder, Calf Creek and Deer Creek, have both been closed because they are run by the BLM, another government agency. That leaves state park campgrounds – which fill up quickly, because there usually aren't many spaces to begin with – and private campgrounds, which can get expensive. If a visitor is brave and hardy, he can try primitive camping on BLM land – it's allowed, but not recommended since you're pretty much on your own - but it's been pretty freakin' cold at night so this is hardly a desirable option.

Obviously, this is really bad. Visitors from across the country and around the world come to Southern Utah to visit the national parks. I feel awful for them. Instead of hiking and enjoying nature, people have to scramble to find a place to lodge. They are PISSED.

Thankfully, no one has taken it out on us. As a state park, Anasazi is open as usual, and people are mostly so grateful to have somewhere to go that they are quite nice to us. We've been doing very well, but I just feel so sorry for our visitors because they didn't fly all the way from France or China to see our little Anasazi ruins.

We've also been doing even more visitor center duties than usual, helping people locate hikes and places to say. This is hard. We can't recommend anything that is on federal land, which is pretty much all the popular trails. At present, people are allowed to hike on BLM property, but we have to strongly caution every visitor that if they get in trouble, there is no one who will be able to help them.

Of course, this also really, really sucks for the employees of the BLM and the national parks. The woman who works at the BLM desk in our museum didn't know anything about her future: whether she'd be paid for this time, when she might expect to return to her job. She was given four hours this morning to drive around and lock up/block up BLM roads and campgrounds, and then that was it. She just had to go home and wait 'til she had a job again. So far, I think our local shops and restaurants are OK, because the people are still here. But if this continues for an extended period, it'll essentially kill the tourist season a month early, and that will hurt.

This is such an embarrassing situation for us as a country. America's government is making such a bad impression on these visitors because our Congress can't do their jobs. I hope that the Republicans and Democrats will reach a compromise soon, because every day that this goes on America looks incompetent and ridiculous to the foreigners who came to appreciate its wonders. Worse, it angers the citizens who voted these people into office in the first place. I think that I will never vote for any current member of Congress in any future election; I will print a list and check against it every November. Congress has failed to perform one of its most basic jobs, and not one of these people should be rewarded with another term.