Government shutdown closes area facilities

Carol Rolf Originally Published October 7, 2013 at 11:20 a.m.
Updated October 7, 2013 at 11:20 a.m.
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The Little Rock District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, closed all Corps-operated campgrounds and day-use parks Tuesday as Congress reached an impasse regarding funding the federal government.

The government shutdown includes facilities at Greers Ferry, Nimrod and Blue Mountain lakes and campgrounds along the Arkansas River between Little Rock and Dardanelle in the River Valley & Ozark Edition coverage area.

Lauri Driver of the Corps’ public affairs office in Little Rock said Tuesday that some employees would be furloughed beginning Wednesday.

“Not all employees will be affected right away,” Driver said, “and not all will be affected. If an employee is deemed ‘essential,’ he or she will remain on the job but will not be paid until the furlough is lifted. They will receive back pay.”

Driver said “essential” employees include those who work at the power plants on the dams and those who work on the lock-and-dam system along the Arkansas River.

“You just don’t walk away from those facilities,” she said.

Steve Ashcraft of Vilonia is one of the “essential” employees. He is the lock operator at the Toad Suck Ferry Lock and Dam just outside Conway.

“I’ve been off for several days and really don’t know much about [the government shutdown],” he said Tuesday night. He was scheduled to return to work at 6 p.m. Thursday.

“I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “My job is considered essential. I’ve been with the Corps for 34 years and am ready to retire. I have all my paperwork in, and my last day will be Jan. 3.

“If I was young and just getting started, I might be worried about it, but I’m not now,” he said. “I think it’s kinda stupid. It’s just politics — politics at its worst.”

Herb Gregg of Bull Shoals, his wife and two dogs arrived at the Toad Suck Ferry Lock and Dam campgrounds about 2 p.m. Wednesday, only to learn that the campgrounds were closed.

“I’ve had a reservation for a month,” Gregg said. “There’s a family wedding here [in Conway] this weekend, and we planned to stay here.

“I’m not happy about it. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I may turn around and go back home and miss the wedding.”

Gregg said he believes the government shutdown could have been avoided.

“They could have negotiated it,” he said. “There’s been no real negotiation. Just an hour ago on the radio, they said they’re still negotiating.”

The attendant at the gate to the campgrounds said he could not comment on the closings.

“He came here to camp, and we’re closing,” the attendant said.

Driver said the lakes are not closed.

“It’s just the campgrounds, day-use areas and visitor centers that are closed,” she said. “The marinas are open. We want people to continue to enjoy the water and to practice good water safety.”

Joe Harper, chief park ranger at Greers Ferry Lake, said, “I can’t release contact info regarding events and park volunteers.”

At least one event was scheduled at Greers Ferry Lake on Saturday. The Wal-Mart Children’s Miracle Network Bass Tournament was set for 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Devil’s Fork on Greers Ferry Lake. A phone call on Tuesday to the contact person listed at getbass.com revealed no information as to whether the tournament would be canceled. Questions were referred to the Wal-Mart media relations department, but the phone call was not returned by press time.

The 50th anniversary of the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam did go on as planned on Thursday with former President Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker.

Melissa Gardner, executive director of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that she had been too busy reaffirming details of the 50th anniversary of the Greers Ferry Dam dedication to think about the effects the shutdown might have on Heber Springs and the area.

“It’s a little too soon to know,” she said of how the closing of the Greers Ferry Lake campgrounds and day-use facilities by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers might affect the area. “I hate to see it happen since tourism plays such a big part in our area.

“It’s in the back of our minds, but with such a mammoth event as the 50th anniversary of the dam celebration, we are totally committed to pulling it off without a hitch.”

Gardner said she knew Greers Ferry Lake office personnel had been in meetings all day long about the situation.

“The rangers will be at work through Thursday, but after that, they may be put on furlough,” she said. “They’ve done an outstanding job. It’s so heartbreaking. They are being kept on the job just for the event on Thursday.

“We just can’t not [have the celebration],” she said firmly.

Driver said two other districts of the Corps of Engineers regulate other areas of the state.

“The Vicksburg District regulates Ouachita, Greeson and DeGray lakes,” she said, “and the Memphis District regulates areas in the eastern part of the state where there are no campgrounds.”

Driver said the affected recreation areas would not reopen until after the shutdown is lifted.

Corps parks leased to partner agencies and concessionaires will remain open but cannot be supported by the Corps while the shutdown is in place.

“The Little Rock District regrets the impacts these closure actions might have on the recreating public currently using or planning to use these facilities and will work to keep the public informed about their availability,” said Col. Courtney W. Paul, Little Rock District commander.

Paul said that until the shutdown has ended, no new visitors will be allowed into, or reservations accepted for, Corps recreation facilities. Campers who were on site prior to the shutdown going into effect Tuesday were required to vacate campgrounds no later than 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Paul said customers may cancel their reservations for a full refund. Customers required to vacate campsites early will receive a partial refund for any unused portion of their reservations. As an alternative, customers may elect to leave reservations open for possible use after the shutdown is lifted. To request a refund, contact the reservation customer service at (888) 448-1474 or TDD (877) 833-6777. If customers choose to do nothing, the reservation service will automatically cancel reservations after their departure date during the shutdown period.

For updated information about park closures, call (501) 324-5551.

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