200 federal workers go back to work on Peninsula
David Heldt of Agnew takes a walk on the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge trail to Dungeness Spit after the refuge reopened Thursday. -- Photo by Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Carol Hanlin of Honolulu, Hawaii, looks over a collection of gift items at the reopened Olympic National Park Visitor Center south of Port Angeles on Thursday.
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Olympic National Park interpretive ranger Chris Eckard looks over the park's website Thursday after the park reopened with restored funding.
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Recreational areas were emptied of visitors and employees for two weeks during a partial federal government shutdown that ended when Congress approved a budget deal Wednesday night that was immediately signed by President Barack Obama.
About 200 federal employees were returning to their jobs, spokeswomen for the park, refuge and national forest said Thursday.
Hurricane Ridge Road opened by 10:40 a.m. Thursday after rocks and snow were removed earlier that morning.
Lake Crescent Lodge reopened at noon Thursday with dinner service planned at 4 p.m., said David Freireich, a spokesman for Aramark Corp., which owns the facility.
“The bottom line is that pretty much everything is opening, if it's not already open,” park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said early Thursday morning.
Nearly all the 134 employees who staff the nation's seventh most visited national park were expected back on duty by the end of the day.
“People are really happy to be back,” Maynes said.
Among them was interpretive Ranger Chris Eckard of Port Angeles.
Eckard, and fellow interpretive rangers Pablo McLoud and Greg Marsh were so anxious to open the visitor center in Port Angeles that they unlocked the doors at 8:30 a.m., a half hour early.
They were later joined by volunteer Norm Hiestand.
Awaiting them were 345 phone calls that had gone unanswered during their absence.
“It's a good feeling, getting back to work,” said Eckard, whose wife, Lorraine, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who works out of Port Angeles, also was temporarily jobless during the shutdown.
Eckard, his wife, Lorraine, and their sixth-grade son made do on savings during the break. They had smartly squirreled away six months worth of expenses.
The couple and all federal workers who were furloughed or worked without pay will receive those wages in their next paychecks.
Eckard did household projects, he said.
Mostly he just waited.
“It was kind of like being in limbo,” he said. “It was a weird sensation.
“I wanted to be at work. I thought I should be at work.”
On Thursday, Marc Hanlin of Ogden, Utah, a program manager, and his parents were browsing through the visitor center.
They had travelled by car to tour the Pacific Northwest and were heading to the coast.
They had stayed Wednesday night in Sequim and were driving past the visitor center Thursday morning when they decided to see if they could go inside.
“We had talked about seeing if it was open,” Hanlin said.
“We kind of got lucky, being able to make it through.”
“I'm glad you're open,” his mother, Carol Hanlin of Honolulu, chimed in.
The shutdown of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor has been an economic “disaster” for Honolulu residents, she added.
Sue Mayo, an administrative assistant at the wildlife refuge, said Thursday that two of the recreational area's six employees had returned to work and that the refuge and Dungeness Spit was fully open to visitors.
A law enforcement officer who patrolled the refuge without pay during the shutdown took a well-deserved day off, Mayo said.
“By Monday, everyone should be back,” Mayo said.
“Everyone is just happy to be at work,” she added. “We do our jobs because we like what we do.
“It's an honor and privilege to work for the U.S. government. It's something we believe in.”
David Heldt of Agnew walked down to Dungeness Spit on Thursday.
“I came out as soon as I could,” he said.
Over the past seven months, Heldt has regularly hiked the trail while recovering from an injured knee.
“I went to some other places to walk while they shut this place down,” he said. “But this is such an easy slope, my knee doesn't feel the hike as badly.”
Olympic National Forest was reopening “in a very deliberate, organized and safe manner,” National Forest Service spokeswoman Donna Nemeth said at midday Thursday, adding the forest will be fully staffed and operational by today.
About 100 National Forest Service employees work in Olympic National Forest.
“We are still in the process of contacting employees, concessionaires and timber-sale contractors to let them know when they can come back to work,” Nemeth said.
The Pacific ranger offices in Forks and Quinault were closed Thursday, while the Quilcene ranger office and the Olympia supervisory office were open.
“We do have staff to conduct sales at those offices and to issue permits,” Mayo said.
The National Forest Service's Klahowya campground was open on a limited basis, as it lacked water, while other campgrounds and recreational facilities will be assessed to determine which ones will open anew.
“Many of them are at the end of the season anyway, and it doesn't' make sense to open them for a week and reclose them when they are scheduled to close at the end of October,” Mayo said.
Lake Crsescent Lodge General Manager Todd Gubler said the winter staff of about three dozen employees was still arriving late Thursday morning.
“They have been very anxiously watching the news and waiting for us to reopen,” Gubler said.
The lodge's phone was not accepting messages during the shutdown, but Aramark's central reservation office handled guest queries.
“We had all the systems turned off because we didn't have any answers,” Gubler said.
“But now we do and are ready for people to call again.
“We'd like to focus on reopening and moving forward.
“At the end of the day, we're not going to cry over spilt milk.
“The weather is amazing, the locals are out here en masse today, and we're getting the facility ready for dinner.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie contributed to this report.
Last modified: October 17. 2013 7:08PM