Park workers play catch-up after shutdown 'Nobody quit': Employees are happy to be back, busy getting the parks back up to speed, superindendents say
The boat launch at Milford Beach, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)
MILFORD — National Park Service employees are slowly getting the gears turning again after a 35-day federal government shutdown that thrust them involuntarily on the sidelines. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Milford, Pa., to Stroudsburg, Pa.) officially resumed operations on Tuesday, amid snowy weather, and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (Hancock, N.Y., to Milford, Pa.) opened on Monday. But the opening was not automatic, like throwing a switch. "The delay in resumption of regular operations is due to the need to ensure safe access to park facilities for employees and visitors," Upper Delaware Superintendent Kristina Heister announced on Monday. "We anticipate it will take 1-2 days to plow parking areas and walkways to provide access to employee offices and potentially longer to fully open the Roebling Bridge area. All areas of the park are expected to be accessible to the public by Friday, Feb. 1." Delaware Water Gap Superintendent Sula Jacobs said it will take some time for employees to re-open other areas that would normally be accessible this time of year. “This week, our employees will be focused on picking up and collecting trash and clearing ice and snow from areas that were closed during the lapse in appropriations,” she said. “The staff is thrilled to be back at work, serving the American people and welcoming visitors to the park. We just ask that people be patient as we work through the backlog and current weather conditions to get things up and running again.” During the shutdown, some areas of the park were closed due to unsafe conditions related to winter weather and the limited availability of staff to keep those areas safe and clear for visitors. Parking lots, boat launches, pull-offs, and some roads will take some time to clear and re-open because of ice and snow accumulation. “It’s a good idea to check with the park before visiting to get the latest information on what is open and what is closed before making the trip,” said Jacobs. She said the park's website at nps.gov/dewa is being updated, and its Facebook page is back online at Facebook.com/DelWaterGapNPS. Staff is once again answering the phones and greeting visitors at park headquarters to help visitors get the latest information and plan their visits.” Park Headquarters, on River Road in Bushkill, is open from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except federal holidays. The information line at 570-426-2452 is available during business hours. Grateful at Grey TowersWilliam Dauer, director of Grey Towers National Historic Site, returned to work this week as the site resumed its regular winter operations. He thanked the community on behalf of the USDA Forest Service and the staff, volunteers and partners. "I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation for the patience and compassion exhibited by so many during the recent closure due to a lapse in federal appropriations," he said in a letter on Wednesday. "Employees, volunteers and partners are already busy planning programs, tours, events, conferences, meetings and administrative operations for a busy and productive 2019 visitor season. Our facilities, museum and landscape team is focusing on areas that are normally accessible this time of year and busy catching up so they can complete spring maintenance and upkeep projects in a timely manner. "We are grateful for the outreach and support offered during the challenging weeks of furlough. We appreciate the offers of free coffee, food pantry access and discounts at local eateries, to name a few. We are glad many of you were able to enjoy walking our beautiful grounds and helped keep an eye on things for us. Thank you for being so respectful toward and thoughtful of this special place. We are grateful for our partners who were willing and able to keep you all well informed through traditional social media venues." Dauer invited members of the public to call Grey Towers 570-296-9630 and check its website at fs.usda.gov/greytowers for updated information. "We look forward to seeing you at Grey Towers later this year," he said. 'The real story'Heister agrees that a stressful 35 days was greatly eased by community support. "The employees of Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River are excited to be back to work serving the American people. Throughout the course of a five week shutdown and missing two paychecks the staff were anxious and concerned but remained upbeat by talking to each other, sharing stories, and probably expressing some frustration with the situation. Although anxious about the need to pay rent, mortgages, and feed their families we were diligent about sharing opportunities and resources with the staff that were available to help federal workers — local examples include great offers for loans at several local banks, free pizza on Wednesday at Elegante's in Honesdale, free soup, breadstick, and salad at Tick Tocks in Honesdale, free breakfast sandwiches and soup at the Waymart Deli, and the Wayne County Treasurer offer of an extension on delinquent property taxes. Community support during this difficult time went a long way in maintaining morale for our employees and we are profoundly grateful for that support — I think this is the real story. The Department of the Interior was also very supportive and made resources and information available to our staff. "None of our staff quit during the shutdown and to my knowledge nobody took a second job — some already have second jobs that helped them to stay afloat. Some of the staff took time to reconnect and strengthen bonds with their families, some worked on home projects, some chopped a lot of firewood, some got a little cabin fever, and five employees worked at the park as excepted employees without pay to continue to protect life and property. Without exception we are all very happy to be back doing our jobs. "Our focus right now is getting everyone paid, making our buildings and grounds accessible to both employees and visitors (parking areas and walkways for example did not get plowed during the shutdown), getting our utilities paid and our systems up and running — then we will turn our eye to seasonal hiring and getting ready for a busy spring and summer season. Overall, the park fared pretty well during the shutdown since it occurred during the winter when visitation is low. Again, we'd like to thank the local community, our partners, and our friends and families for all their support. See you on the river!" The 35-day shutdown ended last Friday, when President Donald Trump agreed to sign a continuing resolution that will fund the government through Feb. 15. It does not include money for the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico, which led the president to shut down the government in the first place. Right now, Congress is working to avert a second shutdown. Last Friday President Trump said he's shut down the government again or declare a national emergency if he does not get "fair deal" from Congress.