Government shutdown ripples through area

FAR WEST TEXAS – Big Bend National Park remains open though barely staffed, Fort Davis National Historic Site is closed, and the area’s uniformed federal agents and officers haven’t been paid since December 21 as Trump’s government shutdown enters its third week.

According to the Brewster County Tourism Council and Visit Big Bend, Big Bend National Park will remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as always during the current government shutdown.

There will be some minor adjustments, the most significant being that most buildings will be closed such as visitor’s centers and indoor exhibits.

Concessioner facilities will remain open including the Chisos Mountains Lodge, the Chisos Basin Store, Rio Grande Village Store and Castolon stores in the park as well as the Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village Service Stations.

In addition, the neighboring 315,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park, the largest in the entire Texas State Park system, is completely unaffected by the government shutdown with hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, river trips and plenty of incredible hiking trails readily available to the public.

The towns surrounding Big Bend National Park including Marathon, Terlingua, Study Butte & Lajitas also are ready, willing and able to welcome visitors despite the government shutdown with hotels, motels, restaurants, and outfitter services open and fully operational.

The tourism council noted that any impact of the government shutdown is expected to be minimal and visitors who were planning a trip in the near future are encouraged to keep their plans as tourists will still be able to enjoy the majesty and wonder of Big Bend National Park during this ordeal.

The areas that have been closed so far due to environmental impact concerns are the Santa Elena Canyon area and all campgrounds inside the national park.

For more details on what areas are affected, please go to visitbigbend.com or check our Face-book page or twitter feed.

The latest – and last – Face-book post on December 28 from the park stated, Government Shutdown Update: Old Maverick Road and the park road between Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon remain closed until further notice due to resource impact concerns.

There is NO overnight camping in Big Bend National Park at this time except for the concession-run Rio Grande Village RV campground.

Previously posted closures remain in effect.

All park regulations remain in effect, and will be enforced.

Emergency services are available, but response times may be delayed.

Visitors should be prepared for additional closures without warning.

The December 22 Facebook post is: During the federal government shutdown, we will not monitor or update social media. Some Big Bend National Park areas such as roads and trails are open and accessible; however, access may change without notice. National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as visitor centers, ranger programs, permits, the border crossing, custodial services, trash collection, and road maintenance will not be available. Restrooms will remain open until they are considered unsanitary, at which point they may be closed. Park law enforcement and Border Patrol will remain on duty. All Park Regulations Remain in Effect and will be enforced. Concession facilities (Chisos Mountains Lodge, gas pumps, camper stores) will remain open at their discretion. For more information, see https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

While Big Bend National Park remains open, historic Fort Davis remains closed.

“Due to the federal government shutdown, I am not in the office and am unable to access or respond to e-mail,” was the reply from John Heiner, Chief of the Ranger Division, Fort Davis National Historic Site. “I will respond to e-mail messages as needed once government operations resume and I am back in the office.”

And you might want to buy a Border Patrol agent and Customs and Border Protection officer, and all the other federal officers a cup of coffee because they remain on duty but unpaid, according to a source. When the shutdown is over, they will be paid, the source added.

Some federal civil service workers have been furloughed, like Roger Maier, the El Paso-based spokesman for the Border Patrol and CBP.

An email sent to Maier for an update on the shutdown was automatically returned: “I will be out of the office starting December 22, 2018. Due to the current federal funding hiatus, I will not be able to return emails or telephone calls until I return to duty upon conclusion of the funding hiatus.”

A local family returning from Europe to Miami on Friday reported talking to a TSA officer who told them he was working but hasn’t been paid.

Whether he would call in sick like some TSA officers have done, he said, “When I run out of gas money, I can’t come to work. Perhaps senators can send their limos to bring me to work or the White House can send the helicopter.”

What could have been a tragic situation had a good resolve when a Big Bend National Park visitor broke his leg, according to CNN.

Josh Snider hoped the government shutdown would mean fewer crowds at Big Bend National Park during his Christmas Eve hike, even if it meant no visitor services or staff patrolling the Texas countryside.

Then, he fell and broke his leg about 1.5 miles into the trek. Suddenly, he needed help — and people.

Fortunately, although rescue services were limited due to the shutdown, other people were close by, he said. A family of four, another hiker and a park ranger carried Snider out of Santa Elena Canyon to safety.

“It turned out to be one of the most beautiful moments ever,” Snider said. “It was great to see everyone come together to help get me out of the canyon.”

But no visitor services are available, and several campgrounds and trails are closed due to sanitation and resource impact concerns.

But the Santa Elena Canyon trailhead and trail were open when Snider visited with his friend. The pair had spent two nights camping in Big Bend and planned to return to Austin, where Snider lives, on Christmas Day.

Snider was climbing up a rock when he lost his footing and fell about 6 to 8 feet into the river below, said Snider’s friend, Michael Bright, who was visiting Snider from San Francisco.

Initially, Bright said he was worried Snider might have lost the car keys in the river. Then, when Snider couldn’t stand up, “It became apparent that he was seriously hurt and immobile,” Bright said.

Both started worrying about how they would get out of the canyon.

“I knew it was going to be a lot harder of a journey out,” Snider said. “I felt helpless and powerless and trapped.”

Snider had made his way to the riverbank by the time Tom Fan passed by with his wife and teenage children. “It was obvious there was a problem,” Fan said.

Fan said he used his wife’s phone to call Big Bend’s office. They dialed 1 for emergency services and were patched through to an operator.

Bright said he explained the situation and the operator told him that resources are limited because of the government shutdown. She offered to put out a call for a ranger, Bright said, but encouraged them to make their way to the trailhead because no medical assistance could be given on the trail.

Another hiker joined them and the adults took turns carrying Snider while Fan’s children carried the water bottles. At some point before the trailhead, a ranger met them and took turns carrying Snider on his back.

Snider described the ranger as much smaller than he was, but “determined” to help, he said. “All he wanted to do was get me out of there safely. He kept cracking jokes and trying to keep things light,” Snider recalled.

A team of emergency medical technicians met them at the trailhead and assessed him on the spot, he said. They sent him to Big Bend Medical Center in Alpine, about two hours away, where he was diagnosed with a fractured fibula and a torn ligament in his ankle.

On December 27, Snider flew to New York, where his family lives, and had surgery on his foot and ankle. He has been recovering and resting in his family’s home in New Hyde Park since.

Snider said he is grateful his injuries were not serious. And he appreciates how everyone came together to help him out of the canyon. But he wishes the government would resolve the shutdown to avoid similar mishaps.

“I can only imagine what someone else might be going through right now who needs a service that they can’t get.”


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