GLENWOOD SPRINGS — From scores of local federal workers being placed on furlough to closed campgrounds and limited access to public lands during the height of fall color touring and the upcoming hunting seasons, Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley can expect to see the impacts of the federal government shutdown.
The partial shutdown took effect Tuesday as a result the congressional impasse over a bill to fund federal government operations for fiscal year 2014.
Republicans have tried to tie the funding bill to their efforts to derail Obamacare, President Obama’s signature health care law that took effect in earnest Tuesday with the opening of health insurance exchanges.
Democrats have refused to budge in allowing the individual mandate portion of the health care law to move forward as scheduled.
The partial shutdown leaves many of the most essential government services, including processing of Social Security payments and military pay, as well as emergency response and law enforcement functions, intact.
Federal assistance programs, such as child care assistance and Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which are administered through the Garfield County Human Services and Public Health departments, will also continue, at least for now.
“For most of our programs, the money comes from the federal government through the state and then to the counties,” said Garfield County Human Services Director Mary Baydarian.
The state indicated on Tuesday that it has enough money on hand to keep things going for a few weeks, she said.
“So there wouldn’t be any immediate impacts,” she said. “The concern is if there is a long-term closure. For now, we’re continuing business as usual.”
Yvonne Long, the county’s director of public health, said she also received an email from state officials Tuesday indicating that WIC funding would not be immediately affected.
“They indicated that they have money to continue the payments for several more weeks at this point,” Long said.
Immediately impacted, however, are about 50 employees working out of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, and scores of U.S. Forest Service employees with the White River National Forest, which is headquartered in Glenwood Springs.
As a result of the shutdown, all but the most essential services, including emergency response and law enforcement, were suspended by the BLM and Forest Service on Tuesday.
The shutdown closed essentially all BLM and Forest Service recreation facilities, including visitor centers, campgrounds, boat ramps and other recreation sites.
Neighboring Pitkin County decided to close Maroon Creek Road to uphill vehicular traffic just below the Forest Service entry portal Tuesday when the Forest Service announced it would close and barricade all of its Maroon Bells facilities.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in turn made the decision to discontinue bus service to Maroon Bells due to the parking lot closures.
“It would have been our preference to keep the road open for buses, vehicles and motorbikes,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said in a press release. “However, with expectations of a very busy week and weekend, parking lots barricaded, and no bus turnaround or bathroom facilities, the county could not keep the road open and protect public safety or the environment.”
The Maroon Creek Road to the Bells is not closed to bicyclists and pedestrians.
Downtown Glenwood Springs has already been without the usual influx of Forest Service workers at the WRNF Supervisor’s Office at Ninth and Grand since the end of June, due to work being done on the building.
Those workers have been dispersed at other Forest Service ranger facilities in the area or working from home in the meantime. But the shutdown’s impact on tourism is likely to have an impact on Glenwood Springs and Garfield County, especially if it drags on.
“Of course, our main concern is for the employees themselves, because they are a part of our community and their needs are paramount right now,” said Marianne Virgili, director and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
“Certainly, if this does continue for a long period of time, there will be an effect in the entire community,” she said. “Not only the workers, but all the people they help bring to town.”
Federal workers who were contacted for this story to talk about the personal impact declined to comment, citing directives from their agencies and referring requests to official sources in state and national offices.
Third District Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who represents the Western Slope including Glenwood Springs, issued a statement on the federal shutdown Tuesday morning.
“We fought late into the night to keep government open, pass a [funding bill] that listens to the concerns of our constituents, and conference with the Senate,” Tipton said.
“The Senate refused to negotiate on any portion of Obamacare including creating fair treatment for all Americans under the law,” he said.