By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
MERCER COUNTY —
Outdoors enthusiasts didn’t have to wait long to find out if the federal government shutdown would hit them where it hurts.
Recreational activities under control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were shut down at Shenango River Lake Tuesday morning as a result of the budget crisis. Those attempting to enter campgrounds and access areas were greeted with gated roads and closed signs. A couple people said they were shooed away by park rangers.
The Corps’ Pittsburgh District, which covers all of western Pennsylvania, part of eastern Ohio, northern Virginia and Maryland, began erecting closed signs over all of its recreation areas, said spokeswoman Carol Davis.
“Shenango Lake is like all other government sites which are basically shutting down,’’ she said. “All public access has been closed.’’
The closing means public launch areas for boats are also inaccessible – with one notable exception.
RC’s Marina in Clark is open and operating through its lease arrangement with the Corps.
“The government shutdown will have no impact to our out-grantees or concessionaires,’’ Davis said.
An employee at the marina said RC’s would be open for probably a couple more weeks; it normally closes as colder weather arrives and water levels fall. RC’s had previously told owners to remove their boats by the end of Tuesday.
All campers currently in Army Corps campgrounds must depart no later than 8 p.m. today.Wednesday Campers will receive a refund for any unused portion of their reservations, by calling 888-448-1474. As long as the parks are closed, future reservations will be automatically canceled.
However, Davis emphasized that critical safety areas are still being maintained – including the Shenango Dam.
“We are still 100 percent protecting the public,’’ she said. “If there are any major flooding issues, we’re going to be out there and involved.’’
Those wanting to complain about the campground and park shutdowns will find it hard because the Corps began shutting down its Facebook page and other social media sites.
Even the military will take its lumps locally during the shutdown, said Lt. Col. Larry Scheetz, Mercer County veterans affairs director. Some civilian employees for the Army Reserves have been furloughed, with full-time reservists being told to fill in the holes at reserves centers such Pendel-Caminiti in Farrell, he said.
Scheetz said he was told an upcoming weekend drill for the Farrell center has been canceled. Nobody answered the listed phone number for the center Tuesday evening.
If the government shutdown lingers, it will eventually affect the Pennsylvania National Guard, Scheetz said.
“Even though it’s state sponsored and financed, they get their money from the federal government,’’ he explained.
Critical veterans’ needs such as medical care, mental health services and nursing centers are not affected. All local veterans claims are being filed and processed as normal. And the shutdown will not affect monthly Veterans’ Administration checks, Scheetz said.
But things can change.
“Federal benefits may be impacted if the budget impasse lasts beyond a month,’’ Scheetz said. “What I tell you today may not be the same tomorrow.’’
And if you’re planning a vacation to Washington, D.C., or a national park, you might need to make new plans.
Masury resident Paul Saternow is vacationing the great American West and found he couldn’t get to the fabled Devils Tower because the park was closed. Instead, he went to a golf course. There were plenty of others in the same boat.
“There’s a bunch of people on the road now that aren’t very happy,’’ he said.
Now headed to Yellowstone, Saternow said he wasn’t optimistic that park would be open either.
“If that isn’t open I guess we go find another golf course,’’ he said. “We may end up getting home a lot sooner than we thought.’’