Shutdown protesters gather at local park

By Joe Beck

FRONT ROYAL — Nancy Brady regarded her cashier’s job at the Elk Hollow Wayside in Shenandoah National Park as a “godsend” when she landed it earlier this year.

Brady, of Luray, said her only other source of income until then was a renter household in the building she owns.

Now Brady’s job is gone, a victim of the government shutdown that began Tuesday, and she worries the shutdown may also be affecting the renters’ ability to make their monthly payments.

One of the renters works for a company that brings tourists by the busload into the park. October is the peak season, but the company recorded nine trips canceled in one day this week, Brady said.

Brady was one of about 30 who gathered at the Front Royal entrance to Shenandoah National Park Friday to demand its immediate reopening. She needs to start earning money again now, she said.

“The job represents money that was going to support me through the winter,” Brady said. “We don’t have a lot of jobs in Luray.”

The clock is ticking on the fall foliage season and on those like Brady who depend on the pay they earn as either government employees or contractors working inside the park. Many of the contractors were counting on extra hours and overtime pay this month, traditionally the peak tourism season before lodging and other amenities close for the winter.

Brady’s boss, Kevin Boyd, who manages the Elk Wallow Wayside between Front Royal and Luray said the shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for him and the 10 or 12 employees he supervises. Like Brady, Boyd joined the protesters who lined the park side entrance of U.S. 340.

The park averages 240,000 visitors in October, about one quarter of its annual total, Boyd said.

Boyd said contract employees count on extra hours and overtime in October before the lodging and other concessions run by contractors close for the winter months.

Even more than the money, Boyd worries about the toll taken in employee morale. Some may not be coming back if the park reopens with a only short time left before the regular seasonal closing.

“Everybody is in the place where they ask, ‘do I want to come back for the rest of the season or do I move on?'” Boyd said.

Boyd, who has a heart condition and lost a day’s worth of pay visiting a doctor’s office a few days ago for an allergy, said he was one of those who logged on to the Obamacare exchange to compare rates being offered by insurance companies under the controversial new program.

Boyd does not qualify for health insurance with the government contractor he works for, but he liked what he saw of the rates available to him under Obamacare and plans to sign up soon.

“I’ve been years without health insurance,” Boyd said.

The irony is that the government shutdown began with the determination of some House Republicans to eliminate funding for Obamacare and the Democrats’ equally fierce commitment to preserving it.

Many of the protesters carried signs signaling they blame the GOP for the shutdown. Most or all of them appeared to agree with President Obama and congressional Democrats that House Republicans should agree to fund the government with no demands about Obamacare or other issues dear to the GOP.

Wolf and Goodlatte have both voted to support a Republican proposal to reopen national parks and museums, one of several bills that would open a few parts of the federal government while keeping most other agencies closed. Democrats have dismissed the piecemeal legislation and called for a continuing resolution that would reopen all parts of the federal government with no conditions.

In a teleconference call earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, said he supported a Republican proposal to reopen the park and blamed the shutdown on the refusal of Senate Democrats to negotiate with Republicans on the issues they have tied to approval of government funding.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley’s other congressman, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Vienna, could not be reached for comment.

A recording left on Wolf’s office voice mail carried the following message: “Due to the government shutdown all Wolf offices are closed and most staff are furloughed. This mailbox is not attended. We will reopen following the end of the shutdown.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com