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Gorge visitors not enamored with Congress

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. -- People turned away from the New River Gorge National River's heaviest-used visitor center on Tuesday during the first day of the federal government shutdown had few kind words for members of Congress.

At about 3 p.m., after doors to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center were locked for the duration of the shutdown, park rangers stretched lengths of crime scene tape across the center's access road. At the middle of the makeshift blockade, a sign was duct-taped to a plastic barrel informing visitors, "Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service Facility is closed."

About 100 full-time and seasonal National Park Service employees were furloughed earlier in the day, leaving nine "essential" employees on the job to oversee the 70,000 acres of parkland in the Gorge, plus the Gauley River National Area and the Bluestone National Scenic River.

National Parks across the nation were closed on Tuesday, creating one of the most visible effects of the federal government shutdown. Nationally, about 20,000 National Park Service employees were furloughed, while about 3,000 others remained on the job.

"We're very disappointed in a government that would let this happen," said Julie Mooney of Ashland, Ky., who appeared at the blocked visitor center entranceway moments after it was closed. "They're supposed to be representing us. Instead, they're acting like two bratty kids -- two bratty kids who need their cabooses kicked."

Mooney, her husband Dan and daughter Carley traveled to the New River Gorge area to take in some zip lining. "We heard that the national parks could be shut down, so we called ahead to make sure the zip lines weren't on national park land," she said.

"I'm surprised that what should have been a one-day issue has ended up shutting things down," said Tennessean Bob Huff, also among those who arrived at the Canyon Rim entrance shortly after it closed.

"We spend billions of dollars every week, yet eight hours after Congress fails to reach a compromise, we have a drastically curtailed situation like this? It's just politics," Huff said.

"We've all got to work together, whether in business or in government," said Tom Karsner of Frankfort, Ky., who stopped at Canyon Rim with a group of family and friends for a view of the Gorge during a four-day tour of West Virginia state parks. "Democrats and Republicans need to get together. They're supposed to be doing the same job -- taking care of the country and the people who live in it. This just makes us mad."

Also on Tuesday, rangers at New River Gorge began informing visitors staying in park campgrounds that they have 48 hours to vacate their sites, since the campgrounds can't be maintained or adequately patrolled during the shutdown.

"It's a little frustrating to hear that, but we were planning to leave tomorrow [Wednesday], anyway," said Adam Riffle, who was spending a break from his Marshall University master's degree program camping at Grandview Sandbar Campground and kayaking the upper New River with friends.

 Also closed on Tuesday due to the government shutdown were Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Those shutdowns left a total of 11 employees furloughed, while four others remained on the job.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 


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