ST. GEORGE — With the government shutdown on its 26th day and 800,000 federal employees still furloughed or working without pay, national parks have been experiencing the effects. However, until recently, reporters from St. George News have been stymied in their attempts to find out how the shutdown is affecting Zion National Park’s most valuable resource: the people who run it.
Across the country, national parks are either unstaffed or short staffed, leaving parts of some parks damaged by visitor use and in many cases, closed off completely. However, Zion National Park has remained open with minimal staffing and services, keeping the visitor’s center and bathrooms open, as well as providing some trash cleanup and law enforcement, thanks to funding from the Utah Tourism Office, the Zion Forever Project, Washington County and the city of St. George.
Park employees have been instructed to direct media inquiries to the park’s chief of interpretation, who, because of the shutdown, has been told to direct reporters to the National Park Service. However, a Zion employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity was able to share with St. George News what it’s like in the park during the shutdown and how employees have been affected.
Federal employees, whether working as an essential employee or not, missed their first paychecks on Friday.
How employees have had to make do varies from person to person. Some employees have been just fine, the Park Service employee said, depending on a spouse’s income or savings account, while others have had to seek outside help to cover personal expenses through loans or credit.
The Interior Federal Credit Union, a financial institution for those involved with the Department of the Interior, is offering up to $15,000 net paychecks, credit cards, skipped payments and zero percent APR on all new and existing lines for the duration of the shutdown for affected employees.
The employee who spoke to St. George News said that while they personally haven’t had to borrow any money so far, if the shutdown lasts much longer they will have to take some sort of action to keep up with expenses.
"So far I haven’t had to do much. I have just kind of reined everything in a little bit. For me, just those kind of personal expenses are all back-burnered for right now. That said, if it goes on much longer I’ll probably change some things."