The barricades went up Tuesday morning, sealing off the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area from visitors in the wake of the federal budget impasse that has caused federal workers across the nation to be furloughed.
Doors were also locked at the Cal S. Taggart Visitor Center as all visitor facilities and services managed by the National Park Service were closed.
Bighorn Canyon Chief Interpreter Christy Fleming said Monday afternoon that most Bighorn Canyon NRA employees were to be furloughed, and acting park superintendent Cassity Bromley said the furloughs would affect approximately 42 employees.
Minimal staff will remain to protect resources, secure the park and provide law enforcement, Fleming said, “just enough to protect the property,” Bromley noted. Sheriff Ken Blackburn said deputies will also pitch in to patrol the national recreation area.
All scheduled and permitted events will be cancelled or postponed, and visitors were to be vacated, Fleming said. Wyoming Highway 37, the transpark highway, will remain open as a local throughway for workers and residents who live beyond the park lands, but visitors are not to go around the barricade at the park boundary.
“The park is shut down,” Fleming said simply.
Barricades provided by the Lovell Police Dept. went up Tuesday blocking off the roads to Horseshoe Bend, Crooked Creek Bay, Devil’s Canyon Overlook and Barry’s Landing. All historic ranches are closed, and all trails and campgrounds are closed, as is the North Kane Boat Ramp.
Similar facilities in the park’s North District are also closed.
In addition, Fleming explained, roads to the shore of Big Horn Lake from the Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area are closed.
Shutdown/closure notices are posted at every barricade, and according to a National Park Service release, people who disregard the notices will be cited and fined.
Field trips for students and special programs are also cancelled.
“In October we have three programs scheduled for Powell Valley Education, and depending on how long the shutdown is, one or more of them may be cancelled,” Fleming said. “We have three school programs and one with Northwest College to get an interagency class set up. They may be put on hold, as well.”
Maintenance and construction projects are also on hold including the Kane Boat Ramp project, the Jim Creek comfort station and the new log boom at Horseshoe Bend.
Fleming did add that the Town of Lovell has agreed to pick up the slack to maintain the recycling trailers at the Red Apple parking lot to ensure that recycling is still available for residents.
“What I’m most disappointed about is that we’ve worked hard with the state to get the shoulder season (visitation) up,” Fleming said, noting that more than 10,000 recreation visitors to Bighorn Canyon NRA were counted in October of 2012.
“I’ve seen traffic up,” Fleming added. “All of the people traveling have saved money to visit and they’re being shut out.”
Bromley expressed a similar sentiment.
“It’s disappointing to have to close the park down,” she said from park headquarters at Fort Smith Monday. “None of us work to do that. We all want to serve the public. As soon as there’s an appropriation we’ll go right back to doing that.”
Medicine Wheel/Paintrock District Ranger Dave Hogan was out of the office Monday and unavailable for interview, but the district office was closed Tuesday and scenic byways history collection programs scheduled for Tuesday night in Greybull and Thursday night in Lovell were cancelled.
Bighorn National Forest Resources Staff Officer and Acting Planning Staff Officer Bernie Bornong said in an email Monday afternoon that Forest Service personnel are limited on the message they can share, but he said that, although offices would be closed, some limited contracts like timber sale contracts would continue.
He confirmed that the byways meeting for Thursday in Lovell would be cancelled “even if we come back to work (before then).” It had been scheduled for the Big Horn Federal meeting room from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
by David Peck