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Lake Mead workers back on job after shutdown

The government shutdown ended Oct. 17, to the relief of local federal employees and businesses that were affected.

“It’s better now that the park is open. Everyone is starting to call us,” said Desert Adventures owner Izzy Collett.

The Boulder City-based business, most popular for its kayaking and canoeing tours, had to cease operations because the shutdown resulted in the closing of its main place of operation, Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Desert Adventures had to lay off 30 employees, and Collett said she was in fear of having to close her business permanently.

While most of the employees have been hired back, Collett estimates Desert Adventures lost at least $20,000 because of the shutdown.

“We’re not out of the clear yet,” she said. “That definitely had an impact on our business.”

However, she said she is optimistic.

“We’re hanging in there, trying to be positive,” she said.

Forever Resorts, which offers houseboat rentals, lodging, raft tours and other services at multiple locations within the park, had to lay off 100 people and estimates the shutdown will cost it roughly $600,000, said Rod Taylor regional vice president.

Most of the employees have been brought back, and the company is seeing most of its activity bounce back, too, he said.

“It seemed like (people) were pretty exuberant to get in the park,” he said.

There are eight large long-term contracted businesses operating within Lake Mead National Recreation Area and 110 businesses with commercial use permits, said Heidi Grigg, who works in the park’s commercial services office.

“I think the thing I’m most sad about is the businesses that operate in the park that provide services to all these people; they weren’t able to do their business,” Grigg said.

During the shutdown, 170 National Park Service employees at Lake Mead National Recreation Area also were furloughed, including Grigg.

“I have a mortgage and one son in college and another planning to go there next year, so it wasn’t like I really looked forward to unpaid vacation,” she said.

When the shutdown began, furloughed federal employees did not know if they would receive back pay when they returned to work. It has since been announced that they will.

“I am grateful they’re going to pay us vacation back pay, but I didn’t know that when it started,” Grigg said.

Grigg said the vacation allowed her to get some work done around the house, and she found some bike trails that were not in the park, but she is happy to be back to work.

“I think everybody was so happy to go back to work,” she said. “I thought, ‘I am here to do what I’m supposed to do.’”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also furloughed the majority of its 280 employees working in Boulder City. Hoover Dam employees were not furloughed.

“A few people I know were living on credit cards and had family expenses and were really, really scared,” said bureau spokesperson Rose Davis.

“We’re here because we love our work and everybody is glad to be back to work, and we’re going to have an employee get-together on Thursday to greet each other and see how we’re doing,” Davis said Monday.

The shutdown, which began Oct. 1 because Congress failed to approve a national budget, resulted in the majority of the nation’s federal employees being furloughed and all 401 national parks being closed.

The park service estimates that around 240,000 Lake Mead National Recreation Area visitors were impacted by the shutdown and that local gateway communities lost nearly $9 million in visitor spending.

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