Effects of government shutdown begin to be felt in Kentucky

jwarren@herald-leader.com,By Jim WarrenOctober 1, 2013 

Mammoth Cave Shutdown

United States park rangers Josh Clemons, left, and Peter Zahrt blocked a trail at Mammoth Cave National Park on Tuesday. Mammoth Cave is among several parks in the state shuttered by the federal government shutdown.

ALEX SLITZ/DAILY NEWS — Daily News

National parks closed, the Kentucky National Guard furloughed 1,300 employees, and both Fort Knox and Fort Campbell sent home civilian workers as the partial U.S. government shutdown began to hit Kentucky on Tuesday.

Private attractions in Kentucky that rely on visitors to national parks for much of their business were girding for a possible downturn and hoping the shutdown ends soon.

Bell County tourism director Judy Barton said that area motels, restaurants and shops could be hit hard by even a brief closure of the nearby Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

"When you have a million visitors to the park every year and it closes, that's serious," Barton said Tuesday.

Regular operations continued at the Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, although some employees of the facility's chemical activity were furloughed. Depot spokesman Mark Henry emphasized, however, that normal monitoring and security of the depot's chemical weapons stockpile are being maintained.

Lexington post offices continued to take applications for U.S. passports, and postal officials said that processing of the applications apparently won't be affected.

The Nashville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in a news release Tuesday that it is "conducting an orderly shutdown because of a lack of appropriations." But the district, which is responsible for Lake Cumberland and other reservoirs in Kentucky, said its dam safety operations will continue.

Both the Fayette County Public Schools and the University of Kentucky said they don't expect problems from the federal shutdown, at least for now.

James Tracy, UK's vice president for research, said the university expects about $135 million in federal research grants this year, and they've already been funded.

"The question will be if this drags on, will things start to unwind," Tracy said Tuesday.

Officials at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell told The Associated Press that basic operations at the two posts were continuing despite the shutdown, although some civilian employees received furlough notices. At Fort Campbell, preparations to send two brigades of troops to Afghanistan this year continued as scheduled.

David Altom, a spokesman for the Kentucky National Guard, said that a total of 1,300 Guard employees statewide have been furloughed. The total includes uniformed soldiers and civilian technicians, plus some temporary duty soldiers, he said.

Altom said the Guard also is halting regular weekend drills while the shutdown continues and is suspending plans to send soldiers for various kinds of specialized military training. But Altom said the Guard's ability to respond to emergencies won't be affected.

"We will support any mission that we're called upon to carry out, by the president or the governor," Altom said.

In addition to the Cumberland Gap park, here's a list of federal facilities in Kentucky that have closed as result of the shutdown.

■ Mammoth Cave National Park.

■ Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.

■ Daniel Boone National Forest.

■ Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

The Big South Fork closure means that the Big South Fork Scenic Railway won't be able to stop at the recreation facility's Blue Heron interpretive center. However, Becky Egnew, the railway's passenger operations manager, said regular train runs will continue.

"We don't know yet how much it's going to affect us," Egnew said. "But we have taken calls today from people planning to visit this week or next week when they're on fall break with their children. They're concerned and trying to find alternatives in case this is not settled soon."

Barton, president and CEO of the Bell County Tourism Commission, said most county residents she has talked with think "our politicians are stupid" for allowing the shutdown that closed Cumberland Gap National Park.

"It's not going to be good for any of us," Barton said. "I've already had calls this morning, even on my cellphone, from tourists who had made plans to come down here.

"October is usually our busiest month for tourists, with the autumn leaves and everything. I just hope they come anyway, even if the park is closed."

Meanwhile, Kentucky parks department spokesman Gil Lawson said state officials don't know yet whether the shutdown of national parks will send more people to state parks in search of recreation. But he said parks officials are making sure that the public knows Kentucky state parks are still open for business.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.

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