By Connie Leinbach
While the National Park Service Visitors Center is closed on Ocracoke by the partial federal government shutdown, anglers who want to fish on the beach can still get permits online at the recreation.gov website.
Those wanting beach permits will need access to a printer while on Ocracoke or they can show their downloaded permits on their smart phones.
Permits for beach fires, which are now allowed on all areas of the Ocracoke beach, can also be purchased online, said Bob Kremser, supervisor of the Ocracoke center.
The book store and gift shop of the Visitors Center, which is operated by Eastern National, a private company that partners with the Park Service in parks east of the Mississippi River, furloughed one employee, he said.
Essentially, all national park visitor centers are closed nationwide, Kremser said, but law enforcement personnel are still working without pay.
“We’re out and about,” said Ed Fuller, NPS law enforcement head ranger for Ocracoke, who said a few folks recently showed him their permits on their phones.
While the public restrooms at the Visitors Center and the Day Use (or Lifeguard) Beach are locked, the porta-johns are still available, he said. One is at the pony pen beach and another is at the airport ramp (Ramp 70) parking area.
“Those are under contract and are still being serviced,” Fuller said,
The restrooms at both ferry terminals, at the south and north ends of the island, are operated at the state level and open.
Trash receptacles at the Visitors Center and the Lifeguard Beach parking lot are locked.
Unlike the last shutdown in 2013 when the beach ramps were closed, during this shutdown, the beaches are open because after the prior shutdown the Park Service reevaluated its lock-down protocol, allowing some access, Kremser said.
For example, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., is not gated but visitors can’t go inside, he said.
News outlets nationwide report trash is piling up, especially in many of the western national parks. The Yosemite National Park site posted this on its website, though it cannot make further updates: “Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Hetch Hetchy, Wawona and Hodgdon Meadow Campgrounds, and all snow play areas are closed due to human waste issues and lack of staffing.”
The New York Times reported that some states have stepped up to keep parks and monuments functioning. New York state is spending $65,000 a day to operate the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and the state of Arizona is paying for trash collection, custodial services for bathrooms and snow removal from sidewalks and trails at the Grand Canyon.
Calls to the Ocracoke Visitors Center and the main Cape Hatteras National Seashore offices went directly to voice mail.
“Everyone who’s furloughed had to put away messages on voice mail and email because there’s no funding, technically, to pay the bills,” Kremser said.
He noted that many federal employees live paycheck to paycheck and the next scheduled one is Jan. 14.
Kremser said that in furloughs past, the Federal Credit Union has granted government employees interest-free loans to help during the pay-less period.
Also, in prior shutdowns, Congress has granted furloughed employees back pay, although that has not been determined.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in a press release Thursday noted that each day the shutdown continues delays the flow of federal funding for critical programs and services.
“Each day the federal government shutdown continues, it delays long-term funds needed for Hurricane Florence recovery and threatens to hold up vital services for North Carolina families,” Cooper said.
By delaying publication of the Federal Register, the shutdown pushes back the time when North Carolina can access its next round of Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding for long-term hurricane recovery, Cooper said. The shutdown also limits state access to federal recovery experts.
If the shutdown continues for weeks, funding for services like Temporary Assistance for Needy (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) could run out.
The shutdown also halts federal loans for rural development projects, limits the capabilities of the U.S. Coast Guard and ceases Environmental Protection Agency operations.