15 horror stories from the government shutdown

A closed entrance to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona.

Photo by NPCA photos, Scott Davis, Ceiba Adventures

The 16-day government shutdown was devastating to recreation communities and furloughed employees, not to mention frustrating to would-be tourists.

While each story below is uniquely horrible, there are hundreds more cases of devastated businesses, distressed workers and disappointed vacationers -- and these are on top of the stories that our unjustly victimized furloughed workers would tell. These "horror stories" show the widespread economic toll on our recreation communities - and just how important recreation and public lands are to our economy. 

1) Group loses $40,000 dream rafting trip in Grand Canyon

A group of people whose names had been on a waiting list for more than a decade to raft the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon learned they could not embark on the trip when they discovered the launch ramp to the river was blocked by barricades and federal vehicles. Getting a permit to raft the Grand Canyon can take years, and in this case, the group reports they had applied for their permits in 1995. The group said they had invested some $35,000 to $40,000 into the 20-day wilderness trip. Full story here. They were among many disappointed rafters who came to the river last week to find their trips ruined. 

Heartbroken woman talks about cancelled rafting trip at Grand Canyon

Tom Martin, Youtube

2) Flood-stricken Colorado tourist town further devastated by park closure

In Colorado, the tourism town of Estes Park was already devastated by historic floods that washed out the main mountain roads into both the town and Rocky Mountain National Park. At least 50 percent of workers there have jobs directly related to recreation. Now closure of Rocky Mountain National Park has further devastated the town by putting an early end to peak tourism season. A letter from Estes town officials to the government stated "The federal government shutdown has now cut off tourism, and the lifeblood of our economy, causing business closures and increasing unemployment. Our struggling town is now in a dire situation."  There are also 200 national park employed in Estes who were furlouged while trying to recover from the flood themselves. Estes relies on October as one of it's top tourism months - this is when visitors swarm the area to see fall colors and the annual fall bugling calls of local elk herds.

UPDATE: On Oct. 12 the state of Colorado re-opened Rocky Mountain National Park, using state funds. They were one of a handful of states to use their own funding to open national parks, citing dire economic need. 

RMNP photo by NPCA, flickr

3) Grand Canyon workers stranded without pay, food

Concession workers at the Grand Canyon have had to accept donations from food banks after the shutdown left many without paychecks to support themselves. These are largely minimum-wage concession workers as opposed to National Park Service employees. According to the Arizona Sun Times, about 1,800 concessionaire employees, are still at the park, many of them stranded without money to travel elsewhere to look for work. 

4) Hundreds of weddings planned at national parks ruined

Hundreds of brides and grooms are scrambling to find alternative plans after the shutdown put an end to weddings planned at parks across the country. Apparently, even being the daughter of the park superintendent at Yellowstone doesn't save your Yellowstone wedding. The park service says the couples can reschedule their weddings for after the parks re-open, but that answer doesn't suffice for those missing out on their dream wedding.  

Yellowstone wedding photo by Deby Dixon photography.

5) Shutdown leaves Carlsbad Caverns town an economic wasteland

City officials in White’s City, N.M., the gateway town to Carlsbad Caverns National Park report the entire town economy is plummeting as tourists to the now closed Carlsbad Caverns have disappeared. "It's hurting the city. It's hurting the motel. It's hurting the grocery store, the gift shop, the RV center, the campground, it's affecting everybody," said White's City employee Oralee Tarvin. City officials say every single store will close early for the remainder of shutdown. 

6) At nation's 12 busiest parks, 7 million visitors and $750,000 lost in first 10 days

An estimated 7 million people were not able to get into the nation's 12 busiest parks in the first ten days of the shutdown, according to a report put out by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. These 12 parks lost a whopping $750,000 in visitor dollars. Park employees are furloughed with no clear answer about whether they'll receive backpay, and another 40,000 non-Park Service jobs are at risk in and outside these 12 national parks alone. As an example, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee has lost 257,534 visitors and $23,123,387 visitor dollars. There are 11,367 non-NPS jobs at risk there.

Photo: Lily Lake At RMNP, by NPCA, flickr.

7) National park lodges report losing millions per day

Park hotels, lodges and concessions reports losing millions for each day the shutdown goes on. Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which operates hotels, restaurants and tours in 21 national parks, including Yellowstone, Zion, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon, reports it is losing $1 million per day.  Forever Resorts, which holds a concessionaire contract at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and which operates resorts in national parks across the country, reports that it is losing $250,000 every day of the shutdown, or about half of the company’s daily sales.  

Forever Resort's web site now announces that they will close their Grand Canyon lodger early for the season.

8) Man arrested for digging up Civil War relics at park unit, decreased security blamed

National Park officials feared there could be vandalism and looting of cultural artifacts, and they were right. The decreased park security lead one man in Georgia to believe he could get away with digging up civil war artifacts. In this case, the man was caught by what's left of park staff. The staff would normally call in a archaeologist to check the disturbed site, but they will forego that step due to the furloughs. 

9) Shutdown forces homeowners to leave Lake Mead Homes

An estimated 60 families with vacation homes along Lake Mead were forced to leave homes after the shutdown, including an Korean War veteran who is undergoing cancer treatment. All of the homes are situated on federal land owned by the Park Service. Homeowners had just 24 hours to leave their homes. 

10) Hollywood forced to stop filming in national forest and park units, lost fees for Forest Service

While Forest Service workers are furloughed, Hollywood filmmakers are unable to secure permits for filming in national forests, which are frequently used in the filming of movies, commercials and television shows, especially in southern California. This means less money for forests. Read the story and explore our photo gallery of 12 forests used in blockbuster movies. 

11) Albuqueque and Petroglyphs monument miss huge chance to capture Balloon Festival traffic

The annual Balloon Festival in Albuquerque normally produces thousands of additional visitors -- and visitor spending -- at nearby Petroglyphs National Monument. That won't happen this year. This video explains the economic impact:

12) Hiker nearly killed when park route closed

According to a report in the Washington Times, a hiker from Arkansas, went missing for five days at a state park in Texas after the government shutdown closed the only route she was familiar with on federal lands. After days in the Chihuahuan wilderness, she was found alive, "naked, dehydrated and nearly dead." 

13) Yellowstone closure cuts town off to outside world, traps tourists inside

Snowstorms had already caused two roads into Cooke City, Montana, to be closed, but there was still one-remaining road through Yellowstone National Park. The government shutdown closed that road unexpected, shutting the town off to the world and trapping a group of 15 tourists in the small town.

14) Hunter and anglers trips ruined in prime of season

Many hunters and fishers found fall trips ruined due to the halt in federal permit applications, as well as closed wildlife refuges and blocked access to some areas in national forests and BLM lands. Learn more. "I think Congress's failure to act is really a slap in the face to all of us in this country, but particularly to hunters and anglers," said Dr. Steve Williams, the president of the Wildlife Management Institute and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

15) 92-year-old full-time park ranger furloughed

A 92 year-old park ranger was furloughed from her position at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. Betty Ried reported being distressed about not being able to go to work at the park she helped build. "This is my last decade, and I can't afford to have anyone waste my time, and that’s what they’re doing" Ried told NBC Bay Area.


And if that weren't enough there's more: 

Small businesses fear bankruptcy due to shutdown

Yellowstone merchants lose critical last weeks

Business down 60 to 70 percent at Joshua Tree National Park

Parks fear increased vandalism

Government shutdown leaves Fort Smith, Montana, a ghost town

Business dries up in the Everglades

Beach access restricted at Redwoods

More related content:

Infographic shows impacts of shutdown on parks and economy

Where am I allowed to go? How are wildlands being harmed? Answers in our Government shutdown FAQs