The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

October 2, 2013

Shutdown: Stripped down crew at NPS headquarters

They call it a government shutdown, but all operations haven’t ceased. In the case of the National Park Service headquarters in Glen Jean, they’ve just been stripped down to their “skeleton.”  

Unfortunately, this skeleton isn’t of the Halloween-appropriate festive variety, but rather the definition in it’s truest sense. The NPS staff has been reduced to staffing only its essential employees, maintaining roles that serve as the supporting framework for their daily operations.

During the shutdown, functions are turned over to a much smaller group, managed by the Incident Command System, said Jeff West, chief ranger and incident commander for the New River Gorge National River, Bluestone National River and Gauley National Recreation Area.  

Whenever there’s something out of the norm, such as a severe storm or national disaster, the National Park Service goes into the Incident Command System, a more structured, objective-based management system that deals with the problem at hand, West said.

ICS is a subcomponent of the National Incident Management System, a system enforced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In its skeleton staff, the NPS currently has nine employees remaining to oversee daily operations — seven staff members in the resource and visitor protection division, responsible for law enforcement, emergency medical services and search and rescue efforts. Two maintenance staff members are kept on for critical functions such as water testing, West explained.

“The problem right now is an extraordinary circumstance that deals with a reduced number of employees during a busy time,” he said.

Some staff members were able to go to the Glen Jean headquarters for a few hours Tuesday morning for shutdown activities, which included presenting furlough letters to roughly 100 employees.  

October is the busiest month for the New River Gorge National River, second only to July.

“We have a lot of visitation in the fall. We have Gauley season, Bridge Day and many other events,” West said.

With Gauley season in full swing, losing that much NPS manpower is borderline critical.

“We’ll have seven people that are capable of responding to an emergency. Normally I have a staff of 31,” West said.

The shutdown has already impacted many park visitors, as campers were notified Tuesday morning that they have 48 hours to leave campground sites. Groups with special use permits and pavilion reservations for events will be slighted by the shutdown, as all park activities are suspended until normal operations are back under way.

“Tailwaters tends to stay full during Gauley Season, so that’s a hardship on those visitors to find other accommodations,” West said.

For a park of the New River Gorge’s magnitude, there are so many access points that it’s impossible to physically close the park, West explained. While NPS facilities are closed, trails and river accesses will still be open despite the shutdown, leaving commercial rafting activities unaffected.

However, there are some parks that have simply closed the gates, such as Assateague Island National Seashore off the eastern shore of Maryland and Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Two large water festivals scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been canceled, including the Project WET Water Festival, organized by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, that would have taken place at Grandview Park later this week.

While children are already losing out with that event’s cancellation, there are at least 150 NPS curriculum-based education programs scheduled over the next several weeks that also risk cancellation.

“If the shutdown continues, the park will not be able to provide any of those programs,” West said.

---

Regardless of the closures and reduced staffing, West assures that Bridge Day will not be affected, even if the shutdown is not remedied soon.

“Bridge Day has become a well-oiled machine and will not be canceled,” West said.

 He explained that the event has a number of outstanding partners that provide immense support, including the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, West Virginia Army National Guard, U.S. Marshals, the FBI, the West Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services and Jan-Care Ambulance.

“The show will go on, and we’ll do the best we can with the capacity we have to assist with it,” West said.

---

The last time the federal government shut down in 1995-96, the shutdown lasted for 28 days.

There are an estimated 715,000 visitors a day to the 401 U.S. national parks, West said.

The shutdown will “definitely have an affect” on the local national park tourism industry, but whether that affect will be short term or wide scale all depends on the span of the shutdown, West said.

“Until funding is restored, this is the way it’s going to stay,” West said. “We remain hopeful that they will reach an appropriations resolution.”

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

What’s not affected by the shutdown

-- U.S. Postal Service and the military

-- Social Security and Medicare benefits will continue.

-- Some decisions about veterans disability claims will be delayed, but most Department of Veterans Affairs will continue.

-- School lunches and breakfasts will continue as will food stamps (SNAP)

-- WIC, the supplemental food, health care referral and nutrition education program for pregnant women, mothers and children could shut down.

— The Associated Press

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Manchin says mines should speak out about coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Raleigh’s $19.6 million budget approved at special meeting

    Raleigh County’s $19.6 million budget for fiscal year 2014-15 is on the books. The budget and the levy rate were approved at a special county commission meeting Tuesday morning.

    April 16, 2014

  • Rainelle Town Council pulls plans to annex roads

    Residents of several communities in Greenbrier County can rest assured they won’t be affected by a proposed road annexation after Rainelle Town Council decided not to move forward with the plan.

    April 16, 2014

  • Calendar — Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    April 16, 2014

  • City and county code enforcement offices separate

    After 10 years of partnership, the City of Beckley and the Raleigh County Code Enforcement offices have decided to part ways.
    Mayor Bill O’Brien said after several meetings with county commissioners, the groups decided to separate.

    April 16, 2014

  • Learn about advance directives at RGH

    Today is National Healthcare Decisions Day and personnel will be available at Raleigh General Hospital from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to anyone interested in learning more about advance directives or who are ready to prepare them at no cost.

    April 16, 2014

  • Greenbrier Valley Famer’s market to open

    The Greenbrier Valley Farmers Market will be opening for the 2014 season Saturday at its “green space” on the corner of Arbuckle Lane and U.S. 219 in downtown Lewisburg.

    April 16, 2014

  • Oak Hill council discusses vacant buildings

    Oak Hill City Council met in regular session Monday to talk ordinance adoption and smoking issues reported in Oak Hill City Park, which was an issue recently raised to Oak Hill City Manager Bill Hannabass.

    April 16, 2014

  • Beckley’s emergency preparedness efforts still ongoing

    Although the City of Beckley Director of Emergency Services position was eliminated two months ago, the county is continuing Kevin Taylor’s emergency preparedness efforts.

    April 16, 2014

  • Old GHS building may get new life

    A Ronceverte school building that was shuttered by consolidation in 1992 may find new life as apartments for senior citizens, if plans floated by a Kentucky development firm come to fruition.

    April 16, 2014

AP Video
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide