Shutdown impact on Southern Nevada parks remains unclear

Updated January 19, 2018 - 9:12 pm

The Department of Interior released a last-minute plan Friday seeking to soften the impact of the government shutdown at the nation’s parks and refuges, but specifics on how that would affect Southern Nevadans and visitors proved tough to come by.

It was unclear Friday evening, for example, whether the Scenic Drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area would be open or closed Saturday.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon referred all questions to Department of Interior headquarters in Washington. Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift responded with a written statement but offered no details about what will happen locally.

Meanwhile, at National Park Service sites, staff members were planning and getting instructions from Washington late Friday afternoon on how to handle the shutdown.

According to the updated Park Service contingency plan issued by the department earlier in the day, most roads, trails and outdoor sites would remain open, though visitors might find overflowing trash cans, locked bathrooms and shuttered buildings.

“As a general rule, if a facility or area is locked or secured during non-business hours, it should be locked for the duration of the shutdown,” the contingency plan states.

Devil in the details

So what does that mean for Red Rock’s popular 13-mile Scenic Drive, which is both a road and an area that gets locked at night?

Local BLM officials couldn’t or wouldn’t say on Friday.

Specific details also were elusive at Death Valley National Park, 100 miles west of Las Vegas, and at Great Basin National Park, 300 miles to the north.

“For now I can state in the event of a lapse in appropriations Death Valley National Park will not be open and access to all areas may not be available,” park spokesman Patrick Taylor said in an email Friday afternoon. “Areas including Badwater, Zabriskie Point and the Mesquite Sand Dunes will remain accessible. There will be no NPS services. The Oasis at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells Village and Panamint Springs Resort will remain open.”

Great Basin spokeswoman Nichole Andler’s initial response to questions Friday was to read out loud from the generic Interior Department statement. After several long pauses, she eventually acknowledged that the park’s roads and campgrounds would remain open, at least the ones not already closed for the winter, but said visitors can forget about touring the Lehman Caves.

There’s one place that’s staying open regardless: Hoover Dam.

Colleen Dwyer, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation in Boulder City, said visitor operations at the dam don’t rely on money from the federal treasury. They are self-funded through ticket sales and the revenue from hydropower generation.

Almost ‘business as normal’

The last time the federal government shut down in October 2013, the entrance to the Red Rock Scenic Drive was locked for 16 days, and several would-be hikers who tried to enter the area on foot were stopped and ticketed by BLM rangers.

A few “trespassing” visitors also received citations at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, when park rangers were dispatched to clear out the campgrounds and keep boaters off the water across the 1.5 million acre reserve.

The shutdown is expected to play out differently at Lake Mead this time around.

Though Park Service facilities will be closed at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, most of the roads will stay open and apparently so will the marinas operated by private concessionaires.

Park spokeswoman Christie Vanover could not provide any additional details Friday.

Gail Gripentog-Kaiser is the owner and manager of Las Vegas Boat Harbor, one of the lake’s busiest marinas just down the hill from Boulder City. She said she was told there would be no emergency services available, so she won’t be sending out any rented boats during the shutdown.

Other than that, she said, it will be “business as normal” at the marina. The restaurant and convenience store will remain open, and anyone with their own boat docked at the marina is free to come and go as they please.

Gripentog-Kaiser said she certainly prefers this approach to the total closure that happened five years ago. Even the timing is better, coming as it does during the slowest month of the year for the marina business at Lake Mead.

“If we’re going to shut down, I’d rather do it in January than March,” she said. “I guess we’ll still be here.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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