Shutdown forces owners to leave Lake Mead homes

Bob Hitchcock is in his “least favorite place” these days — inside his landlocked Las Vegas home instead of at his cabin on the North Shore of Lake Mead, tooling around with old engines in his garage.

He’s one of an estimated 60 families with vacation homes along the lake who were given notice by the National Park Service earlier this week to gather their stuff and leave, according to Christie Vanover, a spokeswoman for the Lake Mead Recreational Area.

 

The homes — from Stewart’s Point on the north to Katherine’s Landing and Temple Bar on the south — sit on federal land.

As a result, the federal government shutdown left Hitchcock just 24 hours to evacuate his two-bedroom, two bath cabin in Stewart’s Point, about 70 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Although Vanover couldn’t put an exact number on how many residents were actually living in their vacation homes at the time of the government’s closure, she wanted to make one thing clear: “They are all vacation homes and everybody who lives in them are considered visitors,” she said. “If anybody needs to gather their personal belongings, we’re not going to deny them access. They can go do that. They just can’t spend the nights there or have barbecues during the day.

“They need to get in and get out.”

And so the vacation homes will remain vacant until Congress can compromise and end the shutdown, which entered its fifth day on Saturday.

“I wouldn’t call it a government shutdown,” said Hitchcock, 71, a retired zone manager for 7-Eleven. “I’d call it a government meltdown. If my kids ever acted like these politicians are acting — it’s probably not politically correct to say this anymore — but I’d beat the crap out of them, then send them to their rooms.”

Hitchcock, who has lived in his cabin for more than 25 years, said he knows the situation is completely out of his control. But being an adult about it doesn’t make it any easier being away from what he truly loves: Restoring antique engines inside his garage while making daily trips on his motor scooter to Overton, the closest town, a 15-minute ride to the north.

“I seriously, seriously threatened to stay and not leave,” says Hitchcock, recalling that moment when a pair of park rangers delivered the bad news. “I mean, I thought, ‘Are they really going to come down hard on somebody for trespassing inside his own home?”

In the end, he took his friend’s advice: The last place he wanted to wind up was in federal court.

“I said, ‘What if I don’t leave,” Hitchcock recalled. “And they told me, they’d issue me a citation, and when I asked them what would happen if I didn’t pay the citation, they said they’d take me to jail. And when I asked them which jail I was going to go to, they said ‘Henderson.’ “

 

Politically speaking, Hitchcock is a lifelong Republican and proud of it. In fact, he sports a shirt that says, “The only thing I hate about Nevada … Harry Reid.”

He’s of the opinion that the less government intervention, the better. He believes the U.S. government should pay its debt. He doesn’t believe anyone, whether it’s an individual or a government entity, should be able to borrow huge sums of money without paying it back.

After all, he did very little borrowing over the course of his life, and what little he did, he paid back.

It’s time to cut spending and take a closer look at slashing federal entitlements, he said.

But, as much as Hitchcock wants to scale back government, he’s in this position because of the federal government shutdown.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who built the Hoover Dam, began giving away yearly leases on land around Lake Mead at bargain rates to make the place a popular tourist attraction.

In later years, the National Park Service took the land over. That’s who Hitchcock has been writing his yearly rent check to since 1987, when he retired and bought the cabin from the previous owner.

At first the rent was only $500 a year; it’s since grown to $2,400 a year.

He expected the increase, it was part of the deal 25 years ago. A deal that requires he take apart his cabin and haul it away when he ends his lease.

But he can’t quite grasp this latest calamity. After all, he wasn’t told to vacate during the Clinton Administration in 1995, when the government was closed down for more than three weeks.

“This can’t last forever,” he says. “October 17 is going to be a big deadline with the debt limit vote coming up. Heaven help me if the government doesn’t open by then.

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