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Point Reyes National Seashore closes during government shutdown

Katherine Lowe of Rhode Island photographs a barricade at the Point Reyes National Seashore, closed because of the government shutdown, Thursday Oct. 3, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 11:16 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 11:16 a.m.

Stephanie Johnson of San Francisco and two friends from high school, who now live out of the area, drove to Point Reyes National Seashore on Thursday hoping to take a hike to one of the park's many secluded beaches.

But the group encountered a barricade in front of the Bear Valley Visitor Center and two rangers directing traffic.

“Are the beaches this way?” Johnson asked.

“Yes, but the beaches are closed,” replied John Dell'Osso, chief of interpretation with the National Park Service. “In fact, our whole national seashore is closed.”

The ranger handed the group a map of the area's state and regional parks, which remain open. Disappointed, Johnson turned the car around.

“It's upsetting,” she said. “Point Reyes is beautiful. This is what we wanted to do.”

Her friend, Kaylee Platt, who is visiting from Boston, said the trio would probably find a local brewery and drink the day away.

“I have some choice words for the government right now,” she said.

On day three of the federal government shutdown, rangers in the 401 national parks removed the last campers and locked the gates. Dejected visitors from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite were turned away from vacations that many had planned months in advance.

Mendocino National Forest, Muir Woods National Monument and recreation facilities at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino that are run by the Army Corps of Engineers were all shut.

Near Point Reyes National Seashore, which sees 8,000 visitors a day in a typical October, the closure was starting to worry small business owners in west Marin County communities such as Olema and Point Reyes Station, who survive on the tourism dollars that the world-renowned park attracts.

Tourists spend $90 million a year in communities around Point Reyes National Seashore, including west Sonoma County, according to the National Park Service.

The closure canceled all park programs and special events including six school field trips and a wedding.

Newlyweds Bowen and Emily Posner from New York had planned their honeymoon to Point Reyes months ago. They were in good spirits when rangers turned them away at the entrance.

“When we heard about the shutdown, we were disappointed, but we thought we'd drive out anyway and take a chance,” said Emily Posner, adding that they would spend the day at Tomales Bay State Park.

Dell'Osso said most tourists have left the park in an orderly fashion, even as a steady stream of hopeful visitors continued to try to enter the park Thursday. About 25 rangers will stay on, unpaid, to patrol the park and control access, he said. Ninety employees were sent home on furlough because of the shutdown.

During the closure, most people found inside the park will be given a warning and asked to leave, Dell'Osso said.

“We're trying to be polite to people because it's a tough situation,” he said. “We can cite people for trespassing. It's hard to miss the signs.”

The closure was already having an impact on businesses around Point Reyes as tourists canceled plans to visit the park known for its 150 miles of hiking trails, backcountry campsites, hidden beaches and an iconic lighthouse. Frank Borodic, president of the West Marin Chamber of Commerce, said his organization is scrambling to produce materials promoting the region's other attractions.

“We want people to know that west Marin is still open for business,” he said. “Tourism is our economy out here. This closure will have a large impact if the shutdown drags on.”

Amanda Eichstaedt, owner of the Bear Valley Inn in Olema said that she has not had any cancellations yet, but is worried that a protracted political impasse in Washington will keep the park closed and the tourists away.

“The loss of access to the park is a big deal,” she said. “I think we will see a drop in bookings if people can't come into the park and hike.”

At the Zuma jewelry and craft shop in Point Reyes Station, owner Melanie Stone said her business had actually benefitted from the park closure as some visitors, who would have spent the day in the park, instead went shopping.

That was the case with Anna Tosick, who had traveled from Hawaii to hike the seaside trails at Point Reyes. Instead, she found herself picking out colorful scarves with her sister-in-law at the Zuma boutique.

“Point Reyes is a special place, and this is prime time to be there,” she said. “We wanted to hike, but we're walking around town instead.”

Stone said that the spillover business from luckless hikers will likely end if the closure continues and tourists avoid the area altogether.

“It will just get worse,” she said. “We're worried.”

Many tourists, like Carol Latvala of Petaluma, expressed frustration with Washington lawmakers. Their political gridlock spoiled what could have been a beautiful fall hike along the Bear Valley Trail, she said after being turned away from the park.

“It's so stupid,” said Latvala, who drove out from Petaluma with a friend. “We just wanted to go for a hike. We knew the government was closed, but we never thought it would affect us taking a hike. I hope the people holding the government hostage will hear from constituents that this is not a solution.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.)

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