Thursday, October 17, 2013 — Big Bend National Park has reopened.
Thursday, October 17, 2013 — As of 5:30 p.m., the road to the Cottonwood Campground remains closed and BBNP officials are advising visitors, intent on traversing back country roads, to use caution as many primitive dirt roads and some improved dirt roads are yet to be inspected and repaired.
Cindy Ott-Jones, Park Superintendent, says park employees have been working diligently all morning to ensure all roads are safe for visitor travel and that campsites are in good condition. During the government shutdown, park roads were not maintained, but crews were out this morning. As of 10:30 AM, approximately 30 vehicles had registered at the Maverick entrance to the park. Panther Junction had upwards of 25 visitors.
Park employees have been able to reopen all of the paved roads with the exception of Castolon to Santa Elena Canyon. Although this is one of the most popular roads in the park, recent rains have made it impassible. Maria Lavender, the Interpretive Ranger at Panther Junction says staff is working on the road and hopes to have it reopened later on Thursday.
Rangers haven’t had an opportunity to inspect all the four-wheel drive roads yet. Old Maverick, also a popular road, is closed.
Ott-Jones says that all government employees, as well as those who work for concession vendors and volunteers, were able to remain in their housing here in the National Park during the furlough.
The only amenity that was available to them was the 24-hour gas pump. Residents continued to make trips to the grocery store to fill other personal needs. Employees who left the park were required to be able to return after giving 24-hours notice.
KRTS Citizen Reporter Sharron Reed asked Superintendent Ott-Jones her thoughts when she received confirmation that shutdown was over. “Everyone is ecstatic,” she said, describing how “surreal” it was to drive around the park during the shutdown and not seeing a soul other than the approximate 200 employees; teachers, concession workers, etc., who chose to remain on site. Ott-Jones said:
“It was heartbreaking — gut-wrenching in fact — to have to turn away visitors. Whether they were from other countries or from elsewhere in the U.S., the last thing we could have ever imagined was turning anyone away from a National Park.”
Thursday at 3 PM, KRTS will have a live on-air interview from Panther Junction with Superintendent Ott-Jones. The National Park Service is expected to issue a press release later this afternoon.
Sharron Reed is a resident of Terlingua, Texas and a correspondent for KRTS, Marfa Public Radio.