In Oregon, federal government shutdown hits home
By Paul Fattig | Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore. | Published: October 3, 2013
MEDFORD, Ore. — As the partial federal government shutdown spreads into Day 3 in Washington, D.C., its effects are beginning to be felt locally.
Some ramifications are relatively small, albeit a major disappointment for some, such as the last-minute cancellation of this week's field trip to Crater Lake National Park by the sixth-grade class at Jacksonville Elementary School.
"We feel badly for the kids!" teacher Jim Finnegan wrote in an email to their parents. "We also appreciate that many of you took the day off of work or made arrangements as drivers/chaperones to make this trip possible."
But that forced last-minute cancellation was nothing compared to what faces Ashland residents Jeannine Grizzard and Jim Fritz. The pair left the Rogue Valley on Sept. 23 road trip, largely to do research in the National Archives and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. They had received paperwork in July to conduct the research.
The couple, who are in Ohio today, were also intent on visiting the World War II Memorial. She is the daughter of an Army general; he is a Korean War veteran.
"We are very disappointed," she said by telephone. "It's all going to be closed. I had important research to do on an early American painting in the National Gallery. Jim had some projects to do in the National Archives. We are now kaput."
She noted the trip, which also included visiting relatives, had been planned in April.
"We are spending thousands on it, and there is not going to be another chance," she said. "We find this absurd and unnecessary and unfair."
She equated the shutdown to a political temper tantrum.
"The people who orchestrated this on the Republican side were determined to shut it down no matter what to get their way," she said. "They said, 'We don't care who pays the price.' Well, they should not get paid while this is going on."
"I absolutely agree," Fritz said. "It's outrageous they give themselves special privileges while others suffer."
Grants Pass resident Gail Yakopatz, president of Honor Flights of Oregon which flies World War II veterans to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., also had strong words for the nation's politicians on both sides of the aisle.
"It is ridiculous it has come down to this," she said Wednesday afternoon. "You would think our elected officials could learn the word 'compromise,' and remember who they are working for: people and not political parties."
The non-profit group has planned an Oct. 17 flight to D.C. with 50 WWII veterans from Oregon aboard, including four from southern Oregon, she said.
If it has to be canceled, it would disappoint the elderly veterans who have not seen the memorial, she said. It could also mean the loss of much of the nearly $30,000 raised for the commercial flight which includes more than 50 guardians who assist the veterans, she added.
"At this point, we are still planning to go — I don't think anything is going to stop these guys," she said, noting that several Honor Flight groups of veterans simply marched through the barricades set up after the shutdown began to reach the open-air memorial in D.C.
Medford resident Martina Wearstler said she's concerned about the impact the shutdown will have on her son and his family.
Her son, Michael Van Daele, 38, is a career enlisted man with nearly two decades in the Marine Corps who has a wife and five children, she explained in an e-mail. Her son is currently on his ninth deployment, she said, adding that he has been wounded three times and received a Bronze Star medal for courage.
"He loves the Marines and has always been proud to serve his country," she wrote, adding she was happy to learn that President Obama guaranteed the pay for those in military uniform.
"(But) the government has closed the commissaries, which our low-income military families depend on for affordable food," she added.
She is also concerned the budget battle could result in short rations for food and supplies in the field.
"I'm hoping that this line-in-the-sand game being played by 'our leadership' is remembered at election time and every incumbent is voted out of office," she said.
An estimated 2,000 federal employees live and work in Jackson and Josephine counties, most of whom are now on furlough.
In addition to closing Crater Lake National Park as well as the Oregon Caves National Monument east of Cave Junction, the shutdown means park concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts is laying off most of its 200 employees early this year, according to general manager Charles Willis.
"We will be going down to less than 20," he said Wednesday, noting there had been 215 employees at the height of the season.
"Some folks are concerned about where they are going to be," he said. "Some were slated to be transferred to other parks. We are offering them housing and complimentary dining for a few weeks. We will help them as much as we can.
"The spirits are good here," he added. "Folks understand. They know the shutdown is out of our control."
The firm operates the historic Crater Lake Lodge, cabins, campground, camper store, two restaurants, a café, two retail shops and boat tours on the lake, the deepest in the nation.
But there were only three rooms occupied Wednesday night, he said, noting that the National Park Service had announced that all guests had to leave by today.
Had there been no federal shutdown, most of its operations were normally scheduled to close on Oct. 7, followed by the Crater Lake Lodge on Oct. 14, he said.
"If we get back into business by the 7th, we would reopen the lodge," he said. "But all of that is predicated on permission from the park service."
The main gift shop and restaurant at the Rim Village, which is normally open year round, would also reopen, he said.
The shutdown laid off about 50 permanent park service employees and 20 seasonal workers with the agency. Over at the Oregon Caves National Monument, all visitor facilities and services, including the Illinois Valley Visitor Center, the Chateau, education programs, cave tours and trails, are closed, officials said.
The monument averages about 200 visitors a day in October, they noted. The monument will lose roughly $1,200 in fees each day of the shutdown, they said.
Of the two dozen park service employees at the Oregon Caves, 20 have been placed on furlough while four remain on duty to provide security and emergency services.
The shutdown has furloughed all but a handful of employees on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District. All told, that includes roughly 400 permanent employees and 170 seasonal employees.
Although the agencies indicated the shutdown would result in closed campgrounds, several of those operated by private concessionaires will remain open.
The popular Farewell Bend, Union Creek and Fish Lake campgrounds will remain open through the end of October, according to Rogue Recreation.
A continued shutdown does mean the BLM, forest personnel and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employees will not participate in the Bear Creek Salmon Festival on Saturday, organizers said.
However, the admission-free event will still be held as scheduled at North Mountain Park in Ashland, they added.
Other programs that will feel the financial effects of the shutdown include Head Start, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon National Guard.