Park Rangers on Furlough Helping Tourists Find Alternatives
MONTROSE – When Zach and Audrey Barton of New York awoke Tuesday morning in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, they were trespassing in a closed federal property, thanks to the Washington stalemate resulting in the closure of 400 national parks and museums that’s furloughed approximately 800,000 workers.
"What shutdown?" Zach asked, wrestling with the chain that barricaded motorists from entering, so that he and his wife could leave. "I hope it isn't for very long.”
Park ranger Ryan Thrush, there to monitor the Tuesday exodus, wasn’t much happier.
"It's 800,000 people going home on unemployment today, who thought they had a good federal job, a decent job," said Thrush, who was told to go to work today, even though he would not be paid.
So Thrush and fellow ranger Marc Yeston put on their uniforms and did what they do, only now helping vacationers and campers from far away as Europe and Florida find their way to the exits prematurely.
“Don't shoot the messenger!" Thrush said of his role in the first day of the government shutdown.
Members of a motorcycle group from Florida pronounced themselves "disgusted" with the shutdown, the country’s first in 17 years (government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 lasted five and 21 days, respectively).
Yeston remembered those days – he worked in Arches National Park at the time – and said the negative reaction back then was just as bad as now. "Yeah, we hate this,” Yeston said. “We like to help people get into the park."
Yeston said he encountered a man Tuesday morning who was traveling to "park to park" on a "dream tour in his BMW," following the death of his wife and the enrollment of his son in college. Yeston said he gave the man directions to a place near Utah that is unaffected by the shutdown. "Just trying to help people with alternative plans," he said.
During the shutdowns in the 90s, federal workers were paid retroactively for the time they spent on furlough, although nothing requires that nonessential employees be compensated if they are ordered off the job. This time around, Thrush and Yeston don't know what to expect from Washington.
"We have to work, but we're not getting paid. But if we don't work, then we're in trouble," Yeston said.
At the turnoff to the Black Canyon off U.S. Hwy 50 Tuesday, about a dozen campers and RVs waited forlornly by the side of the road.
"It's not like they can go down the road to another national park; it's everywhere," Thrush said.
Meanwhile, Congressional leaders maintain their standoff over appropriations to the fiscal 2014 budget, weeks from the deadline to raise the nation's debt limit. Approximately 40,000 federal employees in Colorado are out of work because of the shutdown.