National Park employees head back to work

CALUMET – With the partial federal government shutdown over, administration and staff at the two local national parks are back to work.

Mike Pflaum, superintendent of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, said all parks were back to work as of Thursday morning.

“We were up and operating at the park headquarters (in Calumet Township) by the start of business at 9 a.m.,” he said.

Members of Congress finally reached an agreement for legislation to end the 16-day shutdown, which started Oct. 1.

Pflaum said KNHP headquarters and Keweenaw History Center on Red Jacket Road and the Calumet Visitor Center on Fifth Street are fully staffed now.

“Every one of our park facilities is open,” he said.

Pflaum said the Calumet Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Oct. 31. On Nov. 1, hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday to April 30.

Park employees were on unpaid furlough for the 16 days of the shutdown, but Pfluam said the legislation to end the shutdown included back pay for federal employees.

Pflaum said federal employees were prohibited from even doing work-related e-mails or telephone calls during the shutdown. They were able to keep themselves occupied doing personal things.

“According to reports I heard, there was a lot of yard work done,” he said.

The 16 days off wasn’t exactly like a vacation for park employees, Pflaum said, because there was uncertainty their back pay would be included in the legislation to get the government going again.

“It (didn’t) feel like a vacation,” he said.

Although employees are glad to be back to work, Pflaum said the just-passed legislation is effective only through Jan. 15, when a shutdown could happen again if members of Congress don’t come to an agreement before that date.

“I hope our Congress resolves it,” he said.

Liz Valencia, chief of interpretation for Isle Royale National Park, said before the shutdown and as of Thursday, park employees were able to get the park ready for winter.

“We were able to get everything closed up,” she said.

Valencia said IRNP closed two weeks earlier than normal because of the shutdown. Employees had to remove water from pipes, secure buildings and remove boats from the water in preparation for winter.

Some park visitors were still on the island when the shutdown happened, but Valencia said the Houghton-based Ranger III and the Grand Portage, Minn.-based Voyager II were able to return all visitors by Oct. 11.

“Everyone is off the island,” she said.

The park officially closes Nov. 1, Valencia said, but employees are already gone.

All employees at the Houghton IRNP headquarters are back at their desks, also, Valencia said.

“Everyone came back to work (Thursday),” she said.