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'Happy to be back to work' -- ND National Parks resume business following end of shutdown

For many government agencies, the immediate crisis accompanying the longest government shutdown in U.S. history has ended--for the next three weeks, at least.

The entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is pictured on March 20, 2018. Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press
The entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Photo by Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press

For many government agencies, the immediate crisis accompanying the longest government shutdown in U.S. history has ended-for the next three weeks, at least.

North Dakota's national park system will resume operations following President Donald Trump's signing of a continuing resolution on Friday that temporarily reopened the federal government. The resolution is expected to facilitate a period of three weeks for negotiations to continue between Republicans and Democrats over how to best secure the southern border.

"If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15 again, or I will use the power afforded to me under the laws and constitution of the United States to address this emergency," President Trump said from the Rose Garden following his signing of the resolution to reopen the government.

Staff at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site are moving forward, regardless, with preparations to re-welcome visitors and tackling backlogged services immediately.

"North Dakota's National Park Service employees are happy to be back at work, serving the American people and welcoming visitors to their national parks," Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, said. "Winter in North Dakota is a beautiful and quiet season. We invite all to visit our state's recreational and historic treasures during this exceptional time of year."

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The return of park rangers to national parks is cause for cheer, but many critical duties went ignored as a result of their absence. The government shutdown and the resulting lack of upkeep caused national parks to suffer greatly at the hands of discourteous guests.

In California, the Joshua Tree National Park suffered vandalism and damage to its delicate ecosystem at the hands of unruly mobs who went unchecked during park services' absence. At the Kings Canyon National Park System, overflowing trash and human waste became such a health and biological hazard that closures of entire sections of the park were mandated.

In many cases, a combination of vandalism and a lack of upkeep left parks in such a state of disarray that some experts are saying that it could take years-or even decades-to repair.

"What's happened to our park in the last 34 days is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years," Curt Sauer, former superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park, said on Saturday during a rally on the environmental tolls the shutdown exacted on the park.

In North Dakota, the damage has been less severe than elsewhere as the shutdown took place during winter months when visitors are historically less inclined to venture outdoors. But if you ask Andes, she believes it also has something to do with the people being "North Dakota nice."

"We are really fortunate that we didn't have the same issues as some of the other parks," she said. "North Dakotans did a really good job of being respectful of the parks, understanding our situation and obeying the rules. People here respect their resources in the state and have a North Dakota nice mentality, and we are really grateful for that."

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is unique among national parks as rangers and staff must maintain its three discontiguous pieces separated by long stretches along the Little Missouri River.

"The South Unit is near Medora, the North Unit is 15 miles south of Watford City and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit comprises the park's 70,000 acres," Andes said. "It's challenging to work such a large and discontiguous area, but we are so happy to be back and are so greatly appreciative of the many people who have reached out to us in this challenging time."

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Speaking to the backlog of services facing the park as they resume operations, Andes said it was a work-in-progress.

"In this park, the vast majority of our maintenance backlogs are road repairs," Andes said. "We are reassessing all of our priorities now. It's a process of making sure our employees get paid, that we are paying our bills that we weren't during the shutdown, and assessing where we are after that-which will take a little bit of time."

Despite national backlogs in funding and the effects of the government shutdown, Theodore Roosevelt National Park personnel maintain one of the most scenic and diverse national parks in the nation, according to a poll conducted by the Public Broadcasting Service.

"Parks aren't only important for protecting resources - they are places where people can get outdoors, connect with nature, unplug and get off the screen," Andes said. "It's an inexpensive place to come and learn not only about the park and its resources, wildlife and history-but you can learn something about yourself."

Andes added, "We are really happy to be back to work. Our staff have been anxious to get back to work, and we really appreciate the people in the community checking on our employees and offering help and assistance. That really, really means a lot to us."

For more information on the Theodore Roosevelt National Park or the National Park Service, visit www.nps.gov .

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