National parks will lock their gates as funds stop

Several favorite recreation destinations for South Sound residents were expected to be shuttered Tuesday as part of the federal government shutdown.

Since Congress didn’t agree to a long-term or temporary funding measure, national parks including Mount Rainier and Olympic will be closed, as well as Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Park managers developed contingency plans in the days leading up to Monday night’s deadline.

“What it means is that the park is closed to the public,” said Randy King, superintendent at Mount Rainier. “We will close the gates.”

Said Barb Maynes, Olympic National Park spokeswoman: “Any road that could be secured, locked or gated would be secured. But there are roads like U.S. Highway 101 that go through the park; those would not be closed. But there would not be any visitor amenities available.”

At the Nisqually refuge in Thurston County, the automatic gate set to open at dawn was to remain closed, manager Glynnis Nakai said.

Visitors will not be allowed to park at entrance gates and walk in because there will not be enough staff members on hand to protect the resources and provide for the public’s safety.

Park visitors at lodges or campgrounds will be given 48 hours’ notice to find a new place to stay.

Some people were hiking the Wonderland Trail, but the park will not go to extraordinary measures to notify anyone in the backcountry of the closure, King said.

In parts of the park, where state Routes 123 and 410 will remain open, signs will be posted saying trailheads are closed.

The impact of the shutdown goes beyond locked park gates. Nearly 300 employees at the three locations face being placed on furlough. At Mount Rainier, that meant more than 180 employees, along with 103 people at Olympic and seven staff members at the Nisqually refuge.

According to some estimates, more than 21,000 National Park Service employees will be furloughed.

The employees who will remain on the job are needed to provide security and fire protection and to maintain vital operations.

Both national parks will have slightly more than 30 staff members continue working.

“We’ll have some law enforcement rangers, and maintenance staff to maintain the buildings and check on things,” King said. “We’re also in the process of getting some of our buildings ready for winter, so we need to continue doing that so there is no damage done once winter starts.”

At Olympic, staff members will be needed to maintain wastewater systems requiring daily monitoring.

The National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the effects of the shutdown will extend beyond park boundaries. The association estimates an economic loss to gateway communities of as much as $30 million each day national parks are closed.

King said Mount Rainier had more than 125,000 October visits in 2011 and 2012, with about 2,000 people a day coming through the park. Some would have stayed at lodging in or outside the park, eaten at a restaurant or shopped at an art gallery.

Tana Osterhaus, who owns Jasmer’s at Mount Rainier with her husband, Luke, said they are already seeing an impact.

“Even the rumor of it (Monday) is affecting our reservations for (Tuesday),” she said. “People aren’t going to make plans if there might be a closure.”

Osterhaus said they have learned not to rely on the park to generate all their business. They use other attractions and activities, such as fall colors and mushroom picking, to attract visitors this time of year.

“In my opinion, it’s going to hurt all the little guys,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt the big guys; they’re going to get their money. It’s all a political ploy, but it hurts us little guys.”

For Nakai, the primary impact of the shutdown is the employees now out of work.

“Natural resource-wise, birds are still going to be coming in, and the tides will be coming in and out. It’s the employees and the public that’s going to be impacted,” she said.