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Bryan Horwath, Published October 12 2013

Medora a 'ghost town' during fed shutdown

MEDORA, N.D. – Following a surge in recent days, it doesn’t appear the partial government shutdown will have any type of lasting effect on Wall Street.

Main Street, however, has been feeling some financial pain from the shutdown, which began Oct. 1, especially in the pockets of western United States tourist destinations, such as national parks, that depend on tourism dollars.

In North Dakota, the closing of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the state’s only such destination, has been a main contributing factor toward the slowing of business in Medora to a near standstill, said Little Missouri Saloon and Dining manager Melinda Kuntz.

“It’s affecting business a lot because people are coming into town to see the park,” Kuntz said. “People want to walk through the park, hike through it or ride their horse through it and as soon as they find out the park is closed, they leave and don’t spend any time in Medora at all.”

Though it isn’t the busy summer tourist season any longer, Kuntz said the month of October still attracts a fair number of visitors to town. But Friday at the saloon and restaurant, the business didn’t receive its first customers until about 1:30 p.m.

“It’s very much a ghost town now,” Kuntz said while making a Bloody Mary for a patron. “In the afternoons, we’re lucky to have three tables in the bar and restaurant. This time of year is when a lot of the older people will come through here as they travel out West or head back home. Usually, we wouldn’t close until 1 a.m., but we’re closing at 11 p.m. because there’s nobody in town.”

This past week, the U.S. Department of the Interior agreed to allow states to pay out of their own coffers to operate some national parks closed by the shutdown. As of Friday afternoon, governors in a handful of states expressed interest in doing so, but Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s spokesman, Jeff Zent, said no plans were in the works for North Dakota to follow suit, though Zent said he wouldn’t completely rule it out.

Effect hard to measure

Locally, Mike Beaudoin, chief operating officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, said there are still plenty of reasons to come to Medora, even with the national park being closed.

“There have certainly been some cancellations, and the sheer number of people visiting Medora has been down since the shutdown,” Beaudoin said. “But there is still activity in and around Medora. We call the seasons before and after summer our ‘shoulder seasons,’ and we’ve had less people this month, but we still have a lot of locals who frequent Medora and a good following in Dickinson.”

Medora Mayor Doug Ellison stated in an email Friday that it is difficult to measure exactly how much of an effect the park closing has had on town businesses.

“It’s hard to say in solid numbers, but I’m sure it is reducing visitation substantially for this time of year,” Ellison said.

Kuntz said the ownership of the Little Missouri Saloon and Dining – which also owns the AmericInn in Medora – has had a noticeable loss of business since the shutdown, and Beaudoin said he was told by one hotel operator in Medora that close to 30 rooms had been canceled this month.

“We’ve had a lot of people from places like New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania that have come here not knowing the park was closed,” Kuntz said. “They’re disappointed and a little upset. If you sit and talk with people, you’ll find they are frustrated with the situation because they’ve taken time off work and they’ve been planning trips. I don’t think the (politicians) realize what an impact this is having on small towns.”