Government shutdown quiets dunes

Visitors to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve Visitor Center are met with locked doors and a notice that “because of a lapse in federal appropriations this visitor center is closed …” A UPS delivery notice is posted outside, with no staff to receive the delivery./Courier photos by Ruth Heide

SAND DUNES — A UPS delivery notice flaps in the breeze on the front door of the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve Visitor Center.

“Area closed” signs greet visitors at the dunes entrance and visitor center, where doors remained locked and admission fees go uncollected.

The dunes web site provides a disclaimer of “no visitor services will be available” and warns visitors “that hazardous or dangerous conditions may exist.”

New Dunes Superintendent Pam Rice was the scheduled speaker on Monday for the Alamosa Rotary meeting. She was a no-show.

All of these are indicative of the partial federal government shutdown’s impact on the sand dunes national park. The shutdown, which entered its third week on Monday, affects numerous federal agencies including the National Park Service.

“During the government shutdown, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve will remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as it always is. However, the visitor center and entrance station will remain closed and no visitor services will be available,” the dunes web site advises. “In addition, parking lots may be closed due to the lack of snow removal.”

At the beginning of the shutdown period on December 22, the dunes issued a statement: “During the shutdown of the federal government due to the lapse of appropriations, national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Park roads, and trails at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, will remain accessible to visitors, but emergency and rescue services are limited. There will be no NPS-provided visitor services, including public information, fee collection, janitorial services, restrooms, trash collection, and facilities and roads maintenance including snow plowing.”

If the shutdown continued through December 29, the statement added, the annual Christmas bird count would be cancelled.

No signs of dunes staff were apparent on Monday, with buildings closed up and the entrance station empty. A few visitors stopped at the visitor center parking lot and moved on to the dunes parking lot. A few lone figures could be seen against the dunes as they walked on the bare sand, a blue sky overhead.

The dunes was scheduled to begin collecting increased fees on January 1, increasing the per-vehicle fee from $20 to $25 and per-person fee from $10 to $15, but no one has manned the ticket booth since the shutdown.

In the event of a shutdown, the National Park Service has a contingency plan that allows for no appropriations “except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

All visitor services had to cease during the shutdown period, with the public notified of the status. Employees secured government records and property and ceased operations as quickly as possible.

The government shutdown was still in effect as of press time on Monday night, with President Donald Trump expected to address the issue in a speech to the nation on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile staff at the dunes and other national parks, as well as many other federal agencies, may not get their paychecks on Friday — or accept the UPS delivery posted on the Visitor Center door.

1-8 web two lone people on dunes

Two lone visitors embark on a trek up the dune field at the Great Sand Dunes on Monday. A few cars sat in the parking lot, with some intrepid visitors willing to enjoy the dunes’ winter landscape, in spite of the government shutdown. Although snow removal was not part of the services performed during the shutdown, the main roadway was fairly clear on Monday. Visitors had also seemed to remain respectful of the national park during the shutdown as well, with little evidence of human presence or debris.