Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 | 2 a.m.
No, no, you can’t get married in a national park like you’d planned.
That’s the federal government’s message to a pair of European tourists who had planned a marriage and accompanying bike tour with a Las Vegas company, Escape Adventures.
Congress shut down the U.S. government Oct. 1 because it didn’t pass a budget, and national parks are closed for business.
No budget? No marriage.
"They are coming from Europe just to get married and do the tour," wrote Jared Fisher, director of Escape Adventures. "So even though we are canceling the trip, we are trying to find accommodations on another tour in that area (around Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah)."
Their story is just one of many disruptions caused by the partial federal government shutdown.
Plenty of federal programs are either on hold or are scaling down, employees aren’t receiving pay, and businesses and the important Las Vegas tourism industry have been hurt as well.
Consider what is happening at Red Rock Canyon:
Tourists have canceled Pink Jeep Tour trips to the canyon, and the company says it’s losing between $8,000 to $10,000 a day because it has had to cancel all of its tours into national parks.
“It makes us look bad when they come from Europe and they say, ‘Here’s the U.S., and they can’t get their act together,’” said Richard Scown, general manager of Pink Jeep Tour Las Vegas. “It’s embarrassing.”
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., called the mess “a slowdown of non-essential government services” in a video update posted on his congressional website, but it’s more than a slowdown for contractors and employees who aren’t drawing a paycheck.
“It’s a complete shutdown,” said Mauro Lara, associate executive director at Opportunity Village, a nonprofit organization that helps find jobs for the developmentally disabled.
Lara said more than a dozen employees who would normally clean federal facilities are sitting at home without pay.
“If we have an opening someplace else that they can substitute in for somebody who’s absent or on vacation, we could possibly use them,” Lara said. “Right now all of them are not working.”
Pat Williams from the Friends of Red Rock Canyon, a nonprofit, said about 30 to 40 percent of the organization’s fundraising is tied to Red Rock Canyon being open.
In a normal October, the park would be busy with tourists enjoying autumn’s cool weather.
The group’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments about the shutdown, including one from an Italian woman incredulous about the closure of one of her favorite rock climbing locations.
“There was a den mother who said we were supposed to take our Boy Scouts camping,” Williams said. “Well, maybe not. … Congress is sort of holding public lands hostage.”
While some have argued that the gates to the canyon shouldn’t be closed at all, there are no employees working on-site. So the gates remain closed, and Williams said the Friends of Red Rock Canyon is advising eager hikers that Bureau of Land Management officers may arrest people who try to bypass the gate.
The cancellations and work stoppages may be annoying, but a partially functioning federal government has more serious longer-term ramifications as well.
Nevada has a smaller federal footprint than states such as Virginia or Maryland, home to thousands of federal workers and the businesses they support.
But not paying federal employees and contractors over several weeks could start to seriously impede economic growth in Nevada and nationwide, said Stephen Brown, director for the center for business and economic research at UNLV’s Lee School of Business.
“It’s a combination of people not being paid and those people not going out and buying those things that they normally do,” he said.
But it’s not just consumer spending that could be affected.
Bryan Wachter with the Nevada Retail Association said retailers are watching federal slowdowns at ports of entry. U.S. Customs officers aren’t working right now, so a long-term shutdown could mean goods aren’t arriving at warehouses and stores as companies begin stocking for the holiday shopping season.
“A prolonged shutdown might start to affect inventories for holiday sales,” he said.
One of those furloughed customs employees is 77-year-old Charles Muller, who works as a part-time customs official in Reno.
He hasn’t been at work since Monday, the day before the government shutdown. So instead of processing imported goods into the country, he was home Thursday afternoon with his wife, who seems to have found ways to put her husband to good use around the house.
“I was just out looking at one of my lawn sprinkler systems and it’s got a leak in it,” he said. “It’s little things like that, a little paint here, a little of this or that.”