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Katherine Lymn, Forum News Service, Published October 02 2013

Theodore Roosevelt shuts down; Medora loses huge tourist draw

MEDORA — Theodore Roosevelt National Park officials had four hours to shut down 71,000 acres of park Tuesday morning.

Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks were required to close. North Dakota’s park got four hours — 8 a.m. to noon — to get things in order, such as putting up signs and informing campers they had 48 hours to leave.

Four rangers will continue working to ensure safety and security of the facilities, acting park superintendent Meg Schwartz said.

The other 36 employees are taking some unpaid time off.

As the final hour to close the park wound down Tuesday, Schwartz said most was in order — rangers were driving the scenic loop to make sure no one would be locked in when the park was shut. The state Department of Transportation was to flip the Painted Canyon highway rest stop signs from “open” to “closed.”

As the park slumbers until House Republicans and Senate Democrats strike a spending deal, the small town of Medora will be left with a gaping hole in its tourist attractions.

“I just hope it gets settled soon,” Medora Mayor Doug Ellison said. “This park is a big attraction here and … most of our business is dependent on visitation, obviously.”

National Park Service chief spokesman Mike Litterst previously told Forum News Service that the shutdown could cost communities surrounding the parks more than $76 million a day in lost visitor spending.

Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation spokesman Justin Fisk said the town is especially dependent on the park during fall because the season has ended for the Medora Musical, another big attraction.

“It’s a huge draw and (the shutdown is) definitely going to have an impact,” he said. “There’s no doubt the park closure will be felt.”

Across North Dakota, wildlife refuges are also closed as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shuts its doors.

Many expect a prolonged shutdown as House Republicans demand that the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, be delayed or repealed in the spending bill, and Senate Democrats hold their ground.

House Republicans on Tuesday moved to restore funding to national parks, among select other federal services, but the bill died, Reuters reported. Republicans plan to try that again today, but will likely be stopped by Senate Democrats.

Ellison said late Tuesday morning that several people had already come to see the park and had been turned away.

“If this drags on too much,” Ellison said, “… people may just not bother stopping at all in Medora, and that has a detrimental effect on all our businesses.”

Closed wildlife refuges and wetland management districts in N.D.

- Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge

- Audubon National Wildlife Refuge

- Bismarck Wetland Habitat Office

- Devils Lake Watershed Management District

- J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge

- Kulm Watershed Management District

- Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge

- Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge