The government shutdown is over, and federal parks are open again in Southern Nevada.
The National Park Service removed barricades from all roads leading into Lake Mead National Recreation Area late Wednesday night, within an hour of President Barack Obama signing the legislation that ended the budget stalemate.
“There are boats on the water. There are some out fishing already,” park spokeswoman Christie Vanover said. “It’s a good day.”
The gates at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area opened as they usually do at 6 a.m. Thursday, about an hour before sunrise. The visitor center was open by 8:30 a.m.
It was almost as if the previous 16 days never happened, except for people in the outdoor tourism business. They will spend the coming months trying to get back what they lost during what should have been one of the busiest times of the year for them.
Marina operators on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave reopened Thursday, and companies that run kayak trips and other tours are gearing up. Lake Mead Cruises, which offers paddle boat tours of the reservoir, will resume operation at noon today.
The Pumpkinman Triathlon and other events will be held in the park this weekend as scheduled.
“We’ve had quite a few happy faces around here,” said Gail Gripentog-Kaiser, who owns and manages Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Lake Mead Marina. “We’re just glad to see people out here.”
The family-owned marina operation had about 100 employees before the shutdown, but about 25 were laid off when the park closed. Gripentog-Kaiser said some are being brought back, while others were seasonal workers who will be starting their breaks earlier than expected.
She said they tried to keep as many people working as possible during the shutdown by focusing on cleaning and maintenance projects normally done during the quiet winter months.
Gripentog-Kaiser said Thursday seemed a little busier than usual, in part because people are excited to see the park open again but also thanks to the beautiful weather.
The visitor center also reopened Thursday morning, and park personnel are unlocking and restocking restrooms and other facilities throughout the 1.5 million-acre recreation area.
“All furloughed employees have been called back in,” Vanover said. “So far, it seems everybody reported for work as they were supposed to.”
She said it will take another 24 to 48 hours to get everything up and running again at Lake Mead.
Kirsten Cannon, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Las Vegas, said all federal land was technically closed during the shutdown, but law enforcement rangers largely focused their efforts on the most popular spots.
Basically, that means the overlook, scenic loop and Red Spring picnic area at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is the busiest BLM site in the country with more than 1 million visitors a year.
Just 18 people, most of them rangers, stayed on during the shutdown to patrol BLM’s 3 million-acre Southern Nevada District. Their mission was “the protection of public health and property,” Cannon said.
A total of 174 district employees, including the bureau’s entire 16-person staff at Red Rock Canyon, was placed on furlough. Everyone is now back to work, and everything is open again, Cannon said.
Back at Lake Mead, Gripentog-Kaiser worries about what might happen in January, when the temporary budget deal runs out and the government faces another shutdown.
Even the threat of more park closures could hurt tourism, she said. “People just aren’t going to make plans. They won’t know how to plan.”
Vanover said the National Park Service will do all it can to help the private companies that operate in the park rebound after the shutdown.
The good news is very few places in the country can compete with Lake Mead when it comes to climate and sheer size, Gripentog-Kaiser said. That is why the park drew more than 6.3 million people last year and why it ranks as the fifth-most-visited Park Service site in the country.
“We are a fantastic place to come,” she said. “There isn’t much to compare it to.”
So on Thursday, anyway, Gripentog-Kaiser preferred to focus on the positive.
“You can be angry all you want, but it’s not going to get you through the winter.”
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350. He is on Twitter at @RefriedBrean.