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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to close amid shutdown

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Visitors take in the view of the Kilauea Caldera at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Monday afternoon. The park will be closed today because of the federal shutdown.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Ranger Adrian Boone gives visitors directions from the Kilauea Visitors Center at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Monday afternoon.</p>

By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

With little doubt, Kilauea will continue to erupt today as it has for more than 30 years.

But Pele’s awe-inspiring glow and her one-of-a-kind display of the planet’s inner power will go mostly unseen as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — the Big Island’s main tourist attraction — is closed to visitors as a result of the government shutdown that began this morning.

Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said rangers would begin turning people away at 7 a.m. if Congress couldn’t reach an agreement on funding the federal government.

No compromises or agreements were made Monday, leaving the 330,000-acre park, as well as the isle’s national historic sites, without funding to continue their day-to-day operations.

As a result, 127 of the park’s 140 employees will be furloughed and access to any of its facilities and trails will be closed until a breakthrough is reached.

“We have to have basically a minimum crew on board,” Orlando said, to ensure security and that facilities are maintained. “All our gates to the park will be locked,” she said.

Rangers will also make patrols to prevent people from hiking in, Orlando said.

Today, most employees will show up for about four hours to secure their workstations, she said.

The closure will result in more than just a few of the isle’s tourists having to adjust their vacation plans.

The park averages between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors a day, Orlando said.

A National Park Service report estimated that in 2011 the park contributed $96.6 million to the isle’s economy.

That works out to $265,726 per day.

“Unfortunately, it’s a huge impact on our communities as well as on local businesses who rely on our park,” Orlando said.

Ross Birch, Big Island Visitors Bureau executive director, said the tourism industry should be OK if the shutdown lasts a few days.

“If it’s temporary, a three- to four-day period, then it shouldn’t impact us very much,” he said. “If it’s prolonged, it can have substantial impacts and affect travelers intending to visit,” Birch added.

A call to Roberts Hawaii, which provides bus tours to the park, wasn’t immediately returned.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory located within the park will also be operating with reduced staffing, said Jim Kauahikaua, HVO scientist-in-charge, in an email.

Kauahikaua also provided an official statement from the U.S. Geological Survey regarding the shutdown:

“USGS will continue to operate our five volcano observatories to monitor volcanic activity. Research activities will be discontinued. Additional staff will be called upon to respond to a volcanic event affecting life and safety.”

Pohakuloa Training Area will likely remain quiet as a result of the shutdown.

PTA Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Eric Shwedo said Monday afternoon that use of the training ranges would likely halt but added it’s unclear how many of the 225 people who work at the facility will be furloughed.

He expected to know more that evening.

“The ranges will be halted but beyond that it doesn’t alleviate me of my responsibility to house and feed and everything else for units on the ground,” Shwedo said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry in Hilo both declined to comment before a shutdown occurs.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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