July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Federal government shutdown doesn’t stop visitors to parks

A sign was posted on the bathroom near the parking area and trail that leads to the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

Loren Genson and David Knox | The Gazette

Bears aren’t the only ones doing it in the woods — thanks to the federal government shutdown.

The restrooms at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park were shuttered at midnight while signs posted on parking lot gates stated “this National Park Service facility is closed.”

While scheduled park programs were canceled, the signs and closed gates didn’t stop visitors from hiking, jogging and biking on the trails Tuesdays.

Courtney Arram was at the park Tuesday afternoon for her usual run. The Sagamore Hills Township resident said the closed bathrooms were a “bummer,” but she plans to continue to run on the trails as long as she can.

“Part of the reason I moved here was for access to these trails,” she said.

The parking lot near the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail off West Highland Road in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is full of cars despite a sign stating that the park is closed due to a government shutdown. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

She may not be running there much longer: A supporter-maintained Facebook page for the Cuyahoga Valley Park said campers had 48 hours to vacate the park before all exits would be closed. The park’s official website, along with many other federal websites, are shut down.

Arram said she also is registered to run in the Towpath Marathon, scheduled for Oct. 13. She said she hopes the shutdown ends in time.

“It’s something I’ve been working really hard on and I’d be really disappointed if it gets canceled,” she said.

The privately operated scenic railroad at the national park won’t run during the shutdown because it needs park employees for help, park spokeswoman Mary Pat Doorley said.

Visitor centers also remained closed.

More than 100 employees of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park — the only national park in Ohio — were among tens of thousands of federal employees furloughed as a result of the failure of Congress failure to break a deadlock over the budget.

In Medina County, the impact on local services has been minimal so far.

The Social Security offices at 4035 N. Jefferson St. will remain open — although some services will be curtailed.

According to a news release from the Social Security Administration, offices around the country can still help with applying for benefits and other claims, but will be unable to replace Social Security or Medicare cards and cannot issue a proof of income letter during the shutdown.

Medina’s Armed Forces recruiting centers remained open. At the Navy Recruiting Center, 960 N. Court St., Petty Officer Daniel Dowling said he was told the recruiting efforts will continue during the shutdown.

“The word from Washington is that we are to remain open,” he said.

The shutdown forced cancellation of a planned trip to Washington, D.C., for eighth-graders at Medina’s A.I. Root Middle School.

Medina schools announced the trip would be rescheduled but no date has been set, according to the school district’s website.

The shutdown also threatens to delay burials at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery, in Rittman, officials said.

The impact has reached every corner of the state.

More than 1,800 Ohio National Guard employees joined 8,700 air base workers on unpaid leave in Ohio as a result of the shutdown. There are more than 15,800 Ohio National Guard employees statewide.

“While this is a significant hardship, we are very clear to let Ohioans know that we still have the capability to support this state if a time of need comes into play,” National Guard spokesman James Sims said. “We still maintain our readiness to support the war fight.”

Some 8,700 civilian employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton were put on unpaid leave, resulting in what the base estimates as a loss of $5 million a day in salaries. The base has a total workforce of about 29,000, including civilian and military personnel.

The base commissary will close today and only three of 95 employees remained on duty at the Air Force museum to safeguard exhibits that include vintage military planes. The museum is a popular site for military reunions, and averaged 2,087 visitors daily in October 2012.

The shutdown also is expected to mean delays in government-backed mortgages, other reduced government services and trimmed congressional staffs. A spokeswoman at the Dayton VA Medical Center said that services for veterans continued as normal.

At the Peck Federal Building in downtown Cincinnati, the Internal Revenue Service’s taxpayer assistance center was closed, with a note of apology posted.

Just outside the building, Jennifer Dove was seeing an immediate negative impact — fewer customers for hot dogs and sandwiches sold from her cart. She admittedly just started paying close attention to the standoff Monday.

“I’m very concerned about it,” she said, worried that a prolonged shutdown will affect her federally subsidized housing and other assistance and result in lost jobs and homes, and even higher crime. “It’s really confusing.”

Shannon Marino, 33, a bar manager from Maple Heights, set off on an 18-mile bike ride Tuesday morning before rangers began locking restrooms at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

“I feel like the park system helps people to relax and find peace of mind in today’s society, so it’s an important part to have this area open for everybody,” Marino said.

Roger Gunter, 52, of Elizabeth City, N.C., running in the park while visiting his hometown of Cleveland, blamed both parties for the deadlock.
“We need some new folks there,” he said.

He wasn’t fazed by the locked restrooms: he had identified a nearby fast-food restaurant if needed.

Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell contributed to this report in Cincinnati and Thomas J. Sheeran contributed in Valley View, Ohio.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4065 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.