EAST COBB — Despite the continued absence of park rangers and available amenities, including restrooms, visitors descended on the national parks in Cobb Wednesday even as a partial government shutdown still affected facilities’ operations.
“If the gates are open and the parking lot’s full, I’m coming in,” said Chase Blanton of Atlanta, a cyclist who says he has been riding on the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Cochran Shoals Unit trail since the early 1980s.
On Wednesday, he and several cyclists, joggers, hikers and dog walkers were at the east Cobb trailhead enjoying what was predicted by AccuWeather to be Cobb’s final sunny day of 2018.
“I’ve seen it shut down and open, shut down and open, many times for a long period,” Blanton said.
Though a parking permit for those visiting the Cochran Shoals Unit would typically be $5 per day, visitors were greeted with signs that said such permits would not be issued “during the lapse in federal appropriations” — a partial government shutdown that began over the weekend.
“While this unit area is accessible to the public ... the National Park Service (NPS) is unable to fully staff the properties under its management,” the signs read.
In addition to Cobb’s entrances onto the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, also affected by the shutdown is Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. On websites for both national parks, a message warned of possible effects to park operations.
“Some national parks may remain accessible to visitors; however, access may change without notice. Some parks are closed completely,” the message said. “For most parks, there will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection, facilities, or road maintenance.”
Larry Gosselin, a hiking leader at Georgia Adventurers Group, was talking to a group of about 20 hikers getting ready to hit Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park’s Cheatham Hill trail Wednesday morning.
He said other than parking, the shutdown doesn't really impact his group. He said the hikers know there is no bathroom at the parking lot by the Cheatham Hill trail, so they use one before they get there. He said they were out hiking during the big shutdown at the beginning of the year too.
The parking lot at the Cheatham Hill trail was jam-packed, and people were slowly cruising around hoping to spot someone walking back to their car.
In the past, the vast majority of national parks were closed to visitors and campers, but beginning with the last government shutdown, in January, the Interior Department has tried to make parks as accessible as possible despite bare-bones staffing levels.
Other federal services are not feeling the effects of the shutdown. Social Security checks will still go out and troops will remain at their posts. The U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency and won't be affected. Passport services, which are funded by fees and not government spending, will also continue.
Virtually every essential government agency, including the FBI, the Border Patrol, Federal Emergency Management Agency and others, remain operational.
Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta is unaffected by the shutdown, according to Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Park, public affairs specialist for the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins.
Also unaffected is the customs facility that allows international flights to land at Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field, says Karl Von Hagel, the airport’s manager.
Additionally, Cobb government operations that utilize federal funding are likely to operate more or less as usual, according to County Manager Rob Hosack.
“But for some programs that we interact with as far as grant funds go, we’re not going to feel too terribly much of a pinch,” Hosack said. “The only real service disruption that we would notice would be if we had to call and ask some questions about, ‘Why aren’t we eligible for this grant?’ or ‘Do you know when we might be getting a disbursement on this one?’ those kinds of questions.”
SHUTDOWNS NOT UNCOMMON
Government shutdowns happened every year when Jimmy Carter was president, averaging 11 days each. During President Ronald Reagan’s two terms, there were six shutdowns, typically just one or two days apiece.
Before a three-day lapse in January, caused by Democrats’ insistence that any budget measure come with protections for young immigrants known as "Dreamers," the most recent significant shutdown had been a 16-day partial shuttering of the government in 2013.
That one came as tea party conservatives tried to block implementation of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. The government also shut down for a few hours last February amid a partisan dispute over deficit spending.
Hosack said for the Cobb government to be affected, a shutdown would have to go “for a long time” — enough for a federally supported program to run out of funding that had already been granted and sent.
“The grants have been funded, and the monies have been released, so (now) it really would be more about whether or not we’d be able to call and get somebody on the phone if we had questions on reimbursables or something along those lines,” Hosack said. “The risk could increase if this thing were to go for a protracted amount of time, which we’re all hoping it won’t.”
But a shutdown affecting parts of the federal government appeared Wednesday no closer to ending Wednesday, with President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats locked in a standoff over border wall money that threatens to carry over into January.
— Staff writer Ross Williams and the Associated Press contributed to this report.