Shutdown would shut out tourists

Mesa Verde would close; federal employees would be furloughed


Sam Green/Cortez Journal Rose Marie Salazar dusts spiderwebs off an exhibit at the Mesa Verde Nat

“We’ve been here before,” was a common response from federal public-lands officials regarding a government shutdown stemming from a budget impasse.

Federal programs, national parks and museums, and government services will be closed today if the U.S. Congress failed to negotiate a temporary operating budget for the country by midnight Monday, Sept. 30.

Impacts locally include the closing of Mesa Verde National Park, a major economic engine for the region.

“I was around during the shutdown in 1995-96, and unfortunately it feels like the same climate coming out of Washington as last time,” said Cliff Spencer, superintendent for Mesa Verde National Park on Monday.

“We’re hoping for a solution. We are here to protect the park and provide for the enjoyment of the public. We hope we will continue to be able to do that.”

One hundred Park employees will stay home until further notice if the shutdown occurs, Spencer said. But law-enforcement will continue to operate at the park for obvious security reasons. Also the park’s post office will continue to operate.

Aramark, the park concessionaire providing lodging, maintenance and food service at Mesa Verde will also be affected because it relies on the park to operate, Spencer said.

“They won’t be able to run with the park closed,” he said.

Aramark officials could not be reached for comment on Monday, Sept. 30.

Vacationers currently staying in the park’s campgrounds and at Far View Lodge may be waking up to a untimely eviction notice this morning.

Mesa Verde spokeswoman Betty Lieurance said they would probably have until noon Tuesday, Oct. 1, to pack up and leave if there is a shutdown.

“I believe everyone is aware, but we will be closed if no agreement is reached by (today),” Lieurance said. “People at the lodge will be told they have to make other arrangements.”

Staff living in employee housing at the park will be allowed to stay in their homes, she said.

The Visitor and Research Center also will be closed today if the shutdown occurs. Barricades will stop traffic and notices will be posted. All guided hikes will be canceled as well.

“We are selling tickets for the hikes today (Monday, Sept. 30) only, and refunds will be available for the special hikes booked through the site” that are scheduled during the shutdown, Lieurance said.

The Bureau of Land Management and Canyons of the Ancients also would be affected by a shutdown, said Connie Clementson, field manager for the BLM Tres Rios Field Office.

Fifty-five employees with the monument and BLM will be told to stay home, and the Anasazi Heritage Center museum would be closed.

However Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, including the Sand Canyon trail, will still be accessible to the public.

“We’re telling employees to stay tuned,” Clementson said. “We are sitting on the edge of our chairs, but we have been here before.”

The San Juan National Forest also would be affected. Thirty full-time employees would be told to stay home along with 15 seasonal workers. Law enforcement would continue to operate as would fire crews.

Roberta John, economic development specialist for the Four Corners Monument said that tourist destination will stay open if there is a government shutdown because it is run by the Navajo Nation.

Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation will also remain open to the public.

“We will still be open because we are not tied to federal funding like national parks are,” John said.

Lieurance, at Mesa Verde, said: “Shutdowns are never fun for federal employees. Nobody wins, so hopefully they can come up with a solution.”