As the federal shutdown approaches its first weekend, people in the recreation business gathered outside the locked gates at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and called on Congress to do its job.
“The public lands have been held hostage by our elected leaders,” said Pat Williams of Friends of Red Rock Canyon, a nonprofit volunteer group that helps out at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management site. “It’s pathetic that we’re being held hostage.”
Jared Fisher and his wife, Heather, own Las Vegas Cyclery. They launched the bike shop and tour company 22 years ago, and it was still a small operation when the last federal shutdown hit in December 1995.
In the years since, the tour side of their business has become synonymous with Red Rock Canyon, Fisher said. “It’s how we started. It’s how people know us.”
October is usually their busiest month of the fall, but now the closure of Red Rock’s scenic loop is costing them roughly $1,500 a day. They can still offer mountain bike trips on some trails in the conservation area, but the biggest part of their local tour business has been padlocked by the federal government.
“I’m trying to stay positive,” Fisher said with a laugh. “If it lasts a week, we can probably absorb that. If it lasts a month, we’re screwed.”
Whatever happens, he vowed to protect his 41 employees to bitter end.
“I’ll give them my savings. We’ll start another business. We’ll bake cakes, something,” Fisher said.
Richard Scown is general manager of Pink Jeep Tours in Las Vegas. He said the company has had to reroute or cancel tours destined for the Red Rock scenic loop, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Zion National Park.
Luckily, other regional attractions such as Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Bonnie Springs Ranch, Valley of Fire State Park and the Skywalk on tribal land at the western edge of the Grand Canyon were unaffected by the shutdown. Otherwise, the tour company would really be hurting.
The timing of the Red Rock closure couldn’t be worse, according to Tara Schaup, Pink Jeep’s group sales manager. The company just started offering a new tour package there last week and was set to launch another one Monday.
“This is our signature tour,” she said. “And this is the season. This is the peak season.”
The economic damage is more pronounced elsewhere. Carlos Tello, the tour company’s director of sales, said the shutdown has effectively ended Pink Jeep’s operations at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and all but cleared out the gateway community of Tusayan, Ariz.
“It’s a ghost town over there,” he said.
The Nevada Conservation League hosted Thursday’s press conference to highlight the shutdown’s impact on the state’s outdoor industry and conservation economy, which produced $14.9 billion in revenue last year and is responsible for 148,000 jobs, according to the group.
“This is not a case of turning away your average visitor to drive through the loop, as some in the House of Representatives would lead you to believe,” said April Mastroluca, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League. “This is about shutting down tours, shutting down small businesses, letting go of employees, increasing Nevada’s already bloated unemployment rate.”
Added state Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas: “We’re asking for Congress to end this shutdown now.”
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow him, @RefriedBrean, on Twitter.