Even though the National Park Service is back to work after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, snow and ice has made it difficult for Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction to get back on track.
People drive up, some even roll down their windows, before they realize the entrance booth is closed. There’s still a bit of confusion on the state of affairs here. Park spokeswoman Arlene Jackson said about 10 miles of historic Rim Rock Drive has been gated off since around Christmas.
“Snow has continued to come down, then melt then refreeze, and then more snow on top of it,” she said, “so in the shaded areas we’re expecting it’s going to be kind of challenging to get the road open.”
Jackson isn’t sure when the road will safely reopen or when the entrance booths will be staffed once more. A higher entrance fee was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, but it’s unclear when the park will be able to get its signage and cash registers changed.
Many of the shutdown’s negative effects are behind the scenes. Employees missed out on a crucial time of year when they plan for the busier months ahead, deal with maintenance, seasonal hires and apply for grants.
“I would say for some of us, it’s going to be several months before we feel like that we’re actually caught back up,” she said.
That’s not to mention the 900 or so emails that awaited Jackson when she was finally able to log into her work account.
Despite all this, Jackson is thankful for how smoothly things went at the Monument during the shutdown. Across the country, there were horror stories about the treatment of national parks and public lands during the shutdown, from destroyed joshua trees in California to mountains of trash heaped over garbage bins at the Washington Monument in D.C.
At Colorado National Monument, Jackson said employees found barely any vandalism or litter.
The majority of visitors this time of year tend to be locals, people who Jackson believes think of the park as their backyard and “treat it with respect and with care.”
Meanwhile, the shutdown has had differing effects on other national parks across the state. Rock falls at Mesa Verde National Park have delayed its opening a week. Rocky Mountain National Park partially reopened in mid-January, after the park tapped recreation fees to restore basic services. Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison remained open during the shutdown, albeit with no visitor services.
Each individual park, in Colorado and nationwide, will take time to recover based on staffing and the work that needs to be done to turn out the shutdown mothballs.