By Nick Worth
“We are open,” said Petrified Forest National Park Superintendent Brad Traver. “We’re all back to work and we’re happy about it.”
Traver said it would be business as usual at the park following a 16-day closure because of the U.S. government shutdown.
“We will put our interpretive schedule back in place,” Traver said last Thursday. “We just pick up today as if nothing happened and move forward.”
Traver and a handful of park employees kept working during the shutdown to ensure the security of the park and to ensure that basic services, such as water and sewer services, were available to those workers living at the park. At the time of the closure, it was not known if back pay would be available for that work.
“The bill Congress passed and the president signed last night provides back pay to all federal workers who were furloughed,” Traver said. “Unfortunately, there is no relief for the partners that work with us in the gift shop, the bookstore, the restaurants and the gas station.”
“We’re welcoming visitors back into the park and we’re glad to have everything back on track,” said Deputy Chief of Interpretation Sarah Herve. “We’re really glad to have the park open. We already have some visitors out here enjoying the park.”
Herve said the only special event at the park affected by the government shutdown was the celebration of National Fossil Day on Oct. 16.
According to Herve, the park staff had planned some special hikes in the park, and tours of the laboratory and museum collections.
“National Fossil Day is an annual celebration,” Herve said, noting that the event would be available next year.
Herve said plans are also in the works to offer the popular backcountry hikes again this winter. Details on the hikes will be available when the schedule is worked out.
Park staff members are not the only ones happy about the reopening.
“We’re excited about that,” said Holbrook Chamber of Commerce Director Kathleen Smith. She said it would take some time to realize what effect the park closing had on Holbrook’s economy.
Smith also said there is an upside for Holbrook from the recent closure.
“It was good for us,” Smith said. “It was an eye opener for us in that it forced us to evaluate what we have to offer to tourists other than just the Petrified Forest.
“There’s more to Holbrook than the Petrified Forest,” Smith said.
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By Nick Worth