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Federal Employees Face Work Backlogs As National Parks Reopen

Glacier National Park sign.
Nicky Ouellet
Montana Public Radio
Glacier National Park sign.

National Parks in Montana are re-opening visitor centers and assessing how to move forward following the longest federal government shutdown in history.

Blue skies and sunshine made a rare appearance in Glacier National Park Monday morning as staff there returned to work after the 35 day partial federal government shutdown.

"The park looks beautiful and it's great to be back," says park spokesperson Lauren Alley.

Alley says Glacier staff are planning to restart school programs later this week and visitor centers will reopen Saturday for weekends, as is typical in winter.

Yellowstone National Park reopened winter visitor centers and resumed collecting visitor entrance fees Sunday. Staff returned to work Monday to start processing a backlog of applications for backcountry permits, research and film permits and commercial use authorizations. Yellowstone also begin issuing permits for its non-commercially-guided snowmobile access program Monday.

Morgan Warthin is a spokesperson for Yellowstone. She says despite low visitation in the winter, staff should have spent January preparing for its three million summer visitors.

"Thirty-five days is 35 days. Thirty-five days of missed work, where usually this time of year supervisors are thinking about hiring seasonal hires for the summer. Fire management officers are starting to think about and plan for the upcoming fire season," Warthin says.

Lauren Alley says Glacier is facing a similar backlog.

"This week and probably going into next week is a tremendous amount of assessment looking at the 2019 work plan and what absolutely needs to be done before we welcome those 3 million visitors coming to the Flathead and Glacier County."

Alley and Warthin say the parks experienced minimal negative impacts during the shutdown. They say gateway communities stepped up to care for park employees. Warthin thanked area businesses and park concessionaires for paying to keep snow travel access open during the shutdown.

A deal reached Friday between President Donald Trump and Congress reopened the government through February 15 and authorizes back pay for the 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed or worked without pay through two pay periods. Department heads in Washington, DC, say workers should expect backpay sometime this week.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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