MUNISING - As the peak of fall color tourism season arrives, the federal government shutdown has forced the closure of national parks and wildlife refuges from Pictured Rocks to the Huron Islands to Isle Royale in the Upper Peninsula.
With Congress failing to agree on a continuing budget resolution by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, the National Park Service announced Tuesday it had closed the country's 401 national parks.
"All park grounds, visitor centers, hotels, campgrounds and park roads -except for thruways- are closed," park service officials said in a news release. "All programs are canceled and permits issued for special events on park grounds nationwide are rescinded."
A car exits the park boundary along Miners Castle Road at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Saturday. Park officials had used construction barrels, a sign and police-style tape to tell visitors the park was closed due to the federal government shutdown. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
Park visitors camping in lodges or campgrounds were given until 6 p.m. Thursday to make other arrangements and leave the parks.
In the U.P., the National Park Service closure affects Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Alger County, the Keweenaw National Historical Park and Isle Royale National Park.
However, on Saturday, park visitors were disregarding closed signs, police-style tape, construction barrels and hazard cones put up by Pictured Rocks staff.
On Miners Castle Road, half the roadway remained blocked at the park border, but someone had pushed aside a construction barrel, opening traffic to Miners Castle, Miners Beach and Miners Falls.
At Munising Falls, park visitors avoided the blocked off parking lot and instead parked along Washington Street in Munising. Many of the vehicles had out-of-state plates. An 800-foot pathway leading up to the falls had two strings of the tape strung across the entryway.
A woman heading for the falls simply stepped over the first tape.
"Well that worked, huh?" she asked rhetorically.
The second line of tape had been ripped down previously.
A mother and father led their two young children up the pavement toward the falls, where another couple was taking photographs.
The federal government shutdown also furloughed employees and closed some places in the Hiawatha and Ottawa national forests. The lodge at Valley Spur had a closed sign on the door. However, the campground at Bay Furnace was open, with its last camping day for the season posted as Monday.
The Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County was also affected with refuge lands, visitor centers and other facilities closed. Hunting and fishing are not allowed and walking, biking and other activities are curtailed with access to refuge property closed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Park websites were displaying a message saying all parks were closed because of the shutdown and websites were not operating. The web pages referred readers to the U.S. Department of the Interior website for national park information.
Forest Service webpages said, "Due to the lapse in federal government funding, the U.S. Forest Service, as with other federal agencies, is closed with the exception of certain essential services ... we sincerely regret this inconvenience."
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, voted in favor of a House joint resolution this past week, which would reopen the national parks.
"The national parks up here in northern Michigan are really important for jobs and tourism," Benishek said. "Our parks shouldn't be barricaded shut just because the Senate and the President chose to close down the government. The legislation I supported is a reasonable plan that would allow people to enjoy our parks right now."
The legislation passed the House, but was not expected to be approved in the Senate. There, senators objected to piecemeal efforts to try to fund only certain portions of the government, especially since they felt Tea Party Republicans in the House forced the shutdown by adding provisions to budget bills aimed at killing or altering the Affordable Care Act.
Benishek supported other measures including one that would fund the Veterans Administration.
"If the Senate would do their jobs and pass this bill, we could reopen the parks today," Benishek said. "All that needs to happen is for the Senate t take some action and send this bill to the President's desk. It's as simple as that."
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, said House Speaker John Boehner is sending the Senate a series of bills "to put one Band-Aid at a time on the House Republicans' government shutdown."
"It's an obvious attemper to fool the American people into thinking that House Republicans are acting to end the shutdown. But their transparent tactic isn't fooling many people, and here's why: the people of this country know that the harm of a government shutdown isn't about the handful of programs that House Republicans will dangle in front of us," Levin said.
Levin said no matter how many "rifle-shot bills House Republicans try, all they do is leave our government full of holes."
"We could spend months legislating in bits and pieces while House Republicans ignore the obvious solution: the House should vote on the clean (without conditions) continuing resolution the Senate has sent to them, because that vote will end the shutdown," Levin said.
Levin likened the Republican strategy to "smashing a piece of crockery with a hammer, gluing two or three bits back together today, a couple more tomorrow and to or three more the day after that."
"House Republicans should stop before they do any more damage, put down the hammer, pick up the Senate's continuing resolution and at least put it to a vote," Levin said.
The National Park Service said it hosts more than 282 million people per year and more than 715,000 each day during October, with those visitors spending about $76 million per day in cities and towns located near national parks.
"An October shutdown is costing the National Park Service an estimated $450,000 per day in lost revenue from fees collected at entry stations and fees paid for in-park activities such as cave tours, boat rides and camping," the news release said.
The parks were expected to remain closed, because of the lapse in appropriations, until the government reopens. The shutdown affects more than 20,000 park service employees who were furloughed. About 3,000 employees considered essential personnel remain on the job.
The longest government shutdown in the county's history began Dec. 16, 1995 and lasted 21 days, ending Jan. 6, 1996.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com