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100-plus are back on job at parks

Yurok furloughs are also expected to end very soon

More than 100 employees of Redwood National and State Parks went back to work Thursday after Congress passed legislation late Wednesday to reopen the federal government.

“We’re in the business to welcome people to these beautiful park areas, and it’s been very difficult to turn people away during this shutdown,” said Steve Prokop, superintendent of Redwood National and State Parks.

Meanwhile, the Yurok Tribe expected to have 60 furloughed workers back on the job within 48 hours of the end of the shutdown, said the tribe’s vice chairwoman, Susan Masten. That comes after the tribe shut down a wide range of programs Oct. 7, including tutoring programs for students, funds for the elderly, college scholarships, and general assistance payments to about 50 families.

Masten told the Associated Press she fears that in a few months, when the current budget deal expires, those programs could be threatened yet again.

‘Back to business’

After Congress and President Obama ended the government shutdown, Mary Kay Vandiver, district ranger of the Smith River National Recreation Area, called the 10 employees she was forced to furlough and told them to come to work on Thursday.

“It’s back to business as usual,” Vandiver said. “We have a lot of cleanup to do.”

The district office had a barbecue Friday afternoon to celebrate everyone being back, Vandiver said.

All campgrounds in the NRA have reopened. River access points were technically closed during the shutdown, but Vandiver said she did not have the resources to enforce closures.

Redwood National Park employees did enforce closures, turning away people attempting to visit the overlook at the end of Enderts Beach Road during the shutdown.

“Redwood National and State Parks is the people’s park, but when we don’t have any appropriations, there’s no way to keep the park open,” Prokop said.

International visitors

On the first day that the Redwood National and State Parks visitor center in Crescent City re-opened, several travellers from across the globe stopped by, demonstrating the park’s appeal.

Groups visited from Finland, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Dubai, New Zealand and Australia, as well as several  states — and that was all before noon.

“The national park system is world renowned and they are iconic around the world, so it’s not surprising we get so many diverse, international visitors,” said Prokop.

He said reopening Redwood National Park was one of the best feelings of his career. Closing the park was one of the worst.

“Bugling Roosevelt elk, migrating gray whales, and soaring osprey were never furloughed and welcome your return to the park,” said Candace Tinkler, Redwood National Park spokeswoman.

Prokop and Vandiver both thanked employees who were asked to continue working without  the promise of pay during the shutdown, including firefighters for the Forest Service and law enforcement for both agencies. Prokop sympathized with the park rangers that were asked to turn people away, saying, “that’s not what they were hired to do; that’s not why they got careers with the Park Service.”

Prokop and Vandiver both are looking at a large backlog of maintenance work. They also said  that the shutdown may have forced the agencies to miss the narrow window when they can conduct controlled burns that had been planned near Pappas Flat and Elk Camp Ridge in Gasquet and the Bald Hills in Redwood National Park.

Prokop said Redwood National has a backlog of special event permits to process and that several education programs on parkland had to be cancelled during the shutdown.

“We’re going to come back from this,” Prokop said. “There are some short-term consequences but long-term, Redwood National and State Parks will be able to return to normal operations.”

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  

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