Shutdown irks national park visitors

  • MIKE BRESTOVANSKY/Tribune-Herald Highway 11 through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was one of the only sections of the park open to the public Monday.

  • MIKE BRESTOVANSKY/Tribune-Herald

    Visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park queued Monday, only to each be turned away at the entrance.

Pat and Anita Crotty didn’t expect their visit to Hawaii to be a federal issue.

Nor did any of the many visitors to the island who attempted to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Monday only to be rebuffed because of the park’s closure during the shutdown of the federal government.

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Following a standoff in the U.S. Senate over a spending bill Friday, federal agencies throughout the country ceased nonessential operations, with national parks such as HVNP closing to the public.

“We honestly forgot about it,” said Anita Crotty, a New York resident who arrived Saturday on the Big Island with her husband after the shutdown. “It didn’t feel like something that would affect us.”

Jessica Ferracane, spokeswoman for the park, said that, in the absence of National Park Service staff, the hazards associated with the volcanoes were too great to allow visitors to enter. Consequently, only Highway 11 and Mauna Loa Road through the park were open to the public.

Although the government shutdown ended after only three days following a Senate vote Monday afternoon, the brief lapse caused a significant inconvenience for guests at Kilauea Military Camp and Volcano House, both of which are located within the park’s boundaries. All guests at each location were required to leave the park by 11 a.m. Monday.

Bruce Taylor, deputy director at KMC, said approximately 250 guests were affected by the shutdown.

“Some guests did leave before Monday, earlier in the weekend, after we informed them about the shutdown,” Taylor said. KMC employees, meanwhile, were not required to leave the park.

Although Taylor was unable to disclose whether displaced guests would be compensated for their inconvenience — calling it an “internal matter” — he confirmed that guests will be able to return today as the park reopens.

Representatives of Volcano House, which is managed by Aqua Resorts, were unavailable for comment. The hotel has 33 guest rooms.

Ferracane said parts of the park will open today, beginning with the visitor center and summit area. As staff confirms the safety of other areas in the park, they will be opened throughout the next few days.

The reopening of the park might come as slim consolation to island visitors hoping to see the volcanoes before returning home.

“It’s all I’ve wanted to do for years, is to see the volcanoes,” said Nevada visitor Aaron Meeden.

Turned away at the park’s entrance Monday, Meeden conceded that he would try again today before returning home Wednesday.

Another tourist, Misako Adachi, did not have that option, as she returned to Japan today. Adachi said Monday that she did not understand why the park was closed, but would try to visit the Maunakea summit instead.

Other visitors seemed more annoyed by the shutdown itself than its immediate effects on their lives.

“It’s the Trump shutdown,” said Florida resident Michael Henderson, referring to President Donald Trump. “This is his fault.”

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The Crottys, meanwhile, said the park was their reason for visiting the Big Island and will try to visit again today before their departure Wednesday.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com