Though its rangers and staff were on unpaid leave during the government shutdown, Redwood National Park escaped many of the problems that plagued other national parks in the country, according to its deputy superintendent.
Redwood’s partnership with the California Department of Parks and Recreation created a buffer during the shutdown, said David Roemer. Now that everybody’s back at work and the national park has resumed its normal operation, things appear to be in good shape, Roemer said Tuesday.
“So far we haven’t discovered anything really notable,” he said. “Even Tall Trees road, which hadn’t been maintained over a couple winter storms we had during the shutdown, appears to be in good shape so we have that open now, too.”
Over the weekend, Redwood National Park staff began reopening visitor centers and other facilities that had been closed since the shutdown began Dec. 22. The Kuchel Visitor Center, the Crescent City Information Center and the Hiouchi Information Center were all operating under their winter hours as of Tuesday, according to a Redwood National Park press release.
Though Redwood National Park facilities were closed during the shutdown, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park remained open.
The Redwood Parks Conservancy, the nonprofit organization that supports the national and state parks, stationed an additional staff person at the Prairie Creek visitor center, the only facility within the partnership that was open during the shutdown. A California State Parks volunteer also helped out during the shutdown, according to Joanna DiTommaso, the conservancy’s development director.
Meanwhile, California State Parks maintenance crews cleaned restrooms and collected trash at some of Redwood National Park’s most popular day-use areas including Lady Bird Johnson Grove and the Enderts Beach Overlook.
On Jan. 19, all restrooms and day-use areas reopened and were accessible to visitors using Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds.
According to Brett Silver, acting sector superintendent for Redwood National and State Parks, state parks staff found toilet paper and human waste on the back side of the restroom wall near the Hiouchi Information Center roughly two days into the shutdown, though “nothing major.”
“I don’t think we saw anything out of the ordinary that you wouldn’t see on a regular day,” Silver said Monday. “Our guys, as they came across it, just dealt with it.”
Other national parks in the state weren’t so lucky. Workers at Death Valley National park have counted 40 piles of human feces and more than 1,400 wads of toilet paper, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday. So much waste piled up in Yosemite that officials closed two campgrounds and a popular grove of giant sequoias, according to the Times.
At Joshua Tree National Park, officials found roughly 20 miles of unauthorized trails carved into the landscape by off-road vehicles, more than 100 campfires outside designated campsites and some of its trees toppled over by visitors, the Times reported. Joshua Tree also lost out on approximately $1.03 million in park entrance fees during the shutdown, according to the Times.
Since Redwood National Park doesn’t collect fees, Roemer didn’t think the shutdown resulted in a big loss of revenue, though he couldn’t speak to the community impact.
“My hope is that visitation in our area continued as normal and that visitors either visited the closed areas of the national park or perhaps visited instead the state park areas and that everything continued the way it normally would,” he said.
Though there wasn’t much time to plan for the shutdown, state park and national park officials entered into a written agreement for state park staff to pick up trash and inspect the more heavily day-use areas within the national park, Roemer said.
“As soon as we were off they had stepped up and were maintaining those additional areas in addition to their normal work schedule,” he said. “They did a great job and hopefully the public wasn’t too inconvenienced when they were visiting the parks.”
Since the Crescent City Information Center and the other Redwood National Park visitor centers were shuttered, many travelers found their way to the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce. Sarah Caron, the chamber’s executive director, estimated the chamber’s visitor center saw at least a 50 percent increase for this time of year.
“I think they just got here and didn’t really know what to do,” Caron said. “There was, I would say, traveler confusion where some people didn’t really understand the impact of what a government shutdown looks like and so they were expecting to go on their vacation and establishments to still be open.”
A few local residents also felt the effects of the shutdown since permits to collect firewood on the Six Rivers National Forest were unavailable, according to Caron.
Caron said the chamber worked with the forest service, which agreed to open its offices one or two days a week enabling residents to receive firewood permits.
When asked to comment on whether the shutdown would resume after Feb. 15, Roemer said he really hopes that doesn’t happen. Officials are still trying to get back to normal operations, he said. This includes determining what projects were impacted or delayed from the park being closed for 35 days, Roemer said.
Roemer said some park projects are funded with Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement Dollars, which were used to maintain park restrooms and day-use areas during the last two weeks of the shutdown. He said he doesn’t know how much of that money was used and if that will affect the projects they were originally intended for.
As for how the shutdown affected staff, though most were on unpaid leave — much of the first day of being reopened was spent in determining how to go about making back payments and to whom — some employees were on a normally-scheduled furlough during the shutdown, Roemer said. One employee had retired just before the shutdown started and another’s retirement occurred during the shutdown, he said.
Regardless, park employees are happy to be back at work, Roemer said.
“I think park service employees really care about this job and the job we do for the public and it’s hard to be told not to work because there’s no money to pay you,” he said. “We’re glad that frustration is over and we’re happy to be back doing the jobs we love.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .