SANTA FE – New Mexico’s national parks and monuments, barricaded to the public for 16 days during a federal government shutdown, moved quickly Thursday to throw open their gates.
Visitors from far and wide, barred from being able to take in some of the state’s most photographed sights, were happy to come on in.
At Pecos National Historic Park near Santa Fe, which is run by the National Park Service but is not counted as one of the state’s 11 national parks or monuments, tourists were in good spirits as they took in the historic ruins.
The government reopening helped salvage vacation plans for Barbara MacNemar and Shelton Cannon, of Millersville, Md., who were making their first visit to New Mexico.
“Part of the reason we came to New Mexico was to see the national parks,” MacNemar said, adding that seeing pueblo ruins were also on their agenda. “This is the last day of our trip, so we’re glad we were able to see this one.”
Earlier this year, MacNemar purchased a pass that gave her access to any national park in the country. She said she was disappointed she wasn’t able to use it to visit Bandelier and Petroglyph national monuments.
At Bandelier, near Los Alamos, visitors began showing up soon after the site was opened at noon.
“We’ve only been open an hour, and we’re very, very busy,” Bandelier spokeswoman Chris Judson told the Journal on Thursday afternoon.
The buses that normally shuttle visitors to Bandelier’s visitor center were not running Thursday but are expected to resume operations today, she said.
At Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico, maintenance workers came in early in the morning to tidy up the main road leading to the iconic caverns. The park then opened to the public at its normal time.
“Everyone was salivating to go back to work,” said park Superintendent John Benjamin, who had put his retirement on hold due to the partial government shutdown.
He said employees were notified Wednesday that they should prepare to return to work if Congress approved legislation ending the government shutdown. Such legislation was adopted late Wednesday and quickly signed by President Barack Obama.
Eighty-five Carlsbad employees – out of roughly 90 employees on staff – were furloughed during the government shutdown, Benjamin said.
Workers returning to their jobs Thursday morning found two minor incidents of vandalism that had occurred at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, one of which involved obscenities written on a “closed” park sign.
“I think most of our staff are considered suspects,” Benjamin joked.
Meanwhile, the largely volunteer staff at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument near Silver City was excited to be back on the job, said Rodney Sauter, the monument’s chief of interpretation and acting superintendent.
About 30 visitors had made their way to the cliff dwellings by late Thursday afternoon, said Sauter, who described the attendance number as slightly lower than average.
Unlike some other Western governors, Gov. Susana Martinez declined to reopen national parks during the shutdown by tapping state accounts, saying it was the federal government’s responsibility to keep the park system running.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Zion National Park in Utah were among the parks reopened at states’ expense.
In New Mexico, Martinez and top-ranking lawmakers have voiced concern about the shutdown’s impact on tourism and other sectors of New Mexico’s economy.
State budget officials have said it’s too early to tell how much money the situation in Washington, D.C., might have cost the state in terms of lost tax revenue.
In addition to the National Park Service, other federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management resumed their New Mexico operations Thursday. Facilities and programs run by those agencies were also affected by the 16-day shutdown.
Journal staff writer T.S. Last contributed to this report.