Nevadans, visitors navigate ‘annoying’ government shutdown

Updated January 22, 2018 - 11:11 pm

Las Vegas real estate investor Umer Malik owes the Bureau of Land Management close to $1 million, but when he stopped in to pay his bill on Monday he found the office closed because of “a lapse in federal appropriations.”

Malik snapped a cell-phone picture of the sign on the locked door at BLM’s Las Vegas Field Office near Rancho Drive and Craig Road as proof that he tried to deliver his check before the Jan. 30 deadline.

Malik was the winning bidder on three parcels totaling 10 acres during a federal land auction in August.

He said he and his brother hoped to drop off the down payment for the land, then look through the listings for the next BLM auction, currently slated for Wednesday. Instead, all they could do was drive away with money in hand.

Such minor inconveniences were the order of the day Monday, as Congress limped toward a temporary funding measure aimed at ending the shutdown after less than 72 hours.

At two of Southern Nevada’s most popular federal sites — Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Lake Mead National Recreation Area — the visitor centers were closed and some of the bathrooms were locked, but at least it didn’t cost anything to get in.

A light but steady stream of vehicles made their way past the empty fee booths Monday morning at Red Rock.

‘What a shame’

In Las Vegas on business, Bostonian Seth Lieberman said he came out to run the 13-mile scenic loop.

“What a shame not to be able to collect the money and have services,” said Lieberman, 44, clad in a blue Boston Marathon windbreaker. “It’s a complicated and loaded issue, but it sure seems like a shame and a waste.”

Lieberman said he snapped a photo to tweet when he drove into the park. “It’s like, oh, it’s actually real. … There’s actually nobody here and the bathrooms are locked.”

The restrooms were open and so was the gate at the Red Spring picnic area at Red Rock. The BLM also left the gate open at the Red Rock Overlook, though signs at both sites declared the areas closed.

At Red Spring, someone ripped down a wooden barrier blocking a portion of the boardwalk that has been closed since July for safety reasons. It’s unknown when the vandalism occurred.

Outside the Alan Bible Visitor Center at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Sara Widdowson tried entering the door to the bathroom, but it was locked. A map plastered on the door directed to her an alternate restroom.

‘What is this about?’

“What is this about?” she asked out loud.

The blonde visiting from New Zealand said she didn’t understand what was going on with the United States government, but it had affected her.

“Well, I can’t pee,” she said. “That’s annoying.”

Down the way, arranging his camping materials by Boulder Beach, Robert Lacey was enjoying the breezy weather.

The 67-year-old from San Francisco had been camping for three months at Las Vegas Bay, hiking and keeping in shape. He said he’s seen less people out in recent days, but the campground was still open during the shutdown, with $10 a night for his setup.

“Well, it’s tricky to find a bathroom,” he said, tucking his shoulder-length silver hair behind his ear. “That’s really the only facility you need when you’re camping.”

At the Las Vegas Boat Harbor, about 20 people had come through to either shop, rent gear or eat at the restaurant. January is usually a slow time of the year anyway, said Krystal Virgin, a facilitator at the marina.

“People are taking advantage of the gates being open,” she said.

Outside on the dock, Leo Velasquez and his wife, Guadalupe, watched the birds fly across the water and the fish pop at the surface in search of food. Visiting from Los Angeles, it was their first time at the lake. “It was nice,” he said. “We got right in.”

Though the shutdown ended Monday afternoon, it wasn’t immediately clear how long it might take for the BLM and the National Park Service to get back to business as usual. Among the federal employees furloughed during the congressional impasse were the public information officers who get paid to answer questions like that.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter. Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Marian Green contributed to this report.

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