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Visitors Return, But Economic Damage Done As Northwest National Parks Reopen

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Cars line up at the Nisqually entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park on the first day the park reopened following a 16-day partial government shutdown.

From Crater Lake to Mt. Rainier, visitors wasted no time returning to the Northwest’s national parks and monuments.

The gates reopened Thursday following a 16-day closure because of the partial government shutdown. But businesses that rely on park visitors say the economic damage can’t be undone.

At the Nisqually entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, Ranger Matt Chalup greeted a steady stream of eager visitors.

JoAnn Chu, who brought her friend visiting from China, says “We find out 'oh it’s open,'" she says. "We called so many times, but nobody answers.”

Her friend Guihua Li says she’s been admiring the mountain from a distance but now to get a close-up look, she says “Finally I get the chance. I’m lucky.”

By late Thursday morning there was a line-up of cars at the Nisqually gate. Among those taking advantage of the reopened national park was Larry Curles from the Tacoma area.

“We’re avid hikers and by closing down the parks it forced all of the avid hikers into the other areas. This is hunting season and it’s so much nicer to hunt without hikers on the path and hike without hunters in the woods,” Curles says with a laugh.

Happy visitors make Ranger Debbie Hannevig happy too.

“It’s great to be back," she says. "Our job is to welcome visitors into the park and we don’t like turning them away.”

But down the road, park gateway businesses won’t be so quick to shake off the 16-day closure. Restaurant owner Patti Andres says she laid-off two dishwashers, a cook and a server.

“Now we wait and see how many people will come back," she says. "Takes a while. When you shut your business down it takes a while for people to come back.”

The hope here is good weather and pent up demand will salvage what’s left of the fall season.

Mt. Rainier park officials estimate they lost $4,000 a day in gate receipts during the shutdown.

While all Northwest national parks were able to reopen immediately, rangers warn that not all services are up and running yet.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."