JOSHUA TREE, Calif. - The end to the government shutdown means national parks can begin to reopen including Joshua Tree National Park. That's welcome news to communities in the high desert who rely on the park for revenue from tourism. But, some say the losses are too great to fix.
More than 120 people gathered at a rally in front of the west gate of the Joshua Tree National Park, many of them letting their painted signs do the talking. The peaceful protest called "Shutdown the Shutdown" demanded an end to the fiscal impasse in congress, so that the vital tourism industry can return to the high desert. "They almost are exclusively the things that keep this community going on an economic level," said Travis Puglisi, the event organizer. "That being the case, we are especially subject to sort of the inadequacies that we see our government going through right now."
Protesters also made a clear statement with their actions, walking as one past the closure signs and officially into the park. A park which provides for several small businesses like rock climbing guides during this busy season. "It's just horrible, I'm not making any money and there's so many people coming here for recreation, that I'm turning away," said Seth Zaharias from Cliffhanger Guides.
Some Joshua Tree residents report losses of 100% during the last sixteen days. Just down the road, more than 2,000 civilian workers like Adam Coleman remain furloughed at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base. "You see the Marines trying to block it out, some of the Marines I've talked to and especially the civilians I work with," said Coleman. "It's really taking its toll on morale."
The terms of the agreement reached in the eleventh hour says federal employees will receive back pay. Not the case for much of Joshua Tree, many who say it's just too late. "All the revenue that was lost in advance, it doesn't come back just because things reopen again," said Puglisi. "Yes, people will be able to get back to work, but the damage is pretty much done."
Despite the losses, the news of the shutdown being shutdown comes as welcome relief to lots of high desert residents. "It's going to be wonderful," said Zaharias. "My next day of work scheduled is Friday and I'm really hoping not to cancel that day."
Congressman Raul Ruiz said Joshua Tree National Park will not open Thursday but, "sooner rather than later."