Routt National Forest employees back to work after shutdown | CraigDailyPress.com

Routt National Forest employees back to work after shutdown

Eleanor C. Hasenbeck/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Snow sits on Rabbit Ears Pass in Routt National Forest in 2016.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The partial government shutdown brought out the best of the Yampa Valley for local U.S. Forest Service employees.

Forest Service staff returned to their offices Monday after Congressional leaders and Donald Trump reached a temporary agreement Friday to reopen the federal government for three weeks.

“The biggest impact that we saw was positive,” said Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger Tara Umphries. “It was amazing the support the community gave folks as independent community members as well as businesses supporting us.”

Furloughed Forest Service employees in the Parks, Hahns Peak/Bears Ears and Yampa ranger districts gathered once a week to stay connected.

Several local businesses offered discounts on food, drinks and entertainment. Individuals gave words of encouragement and invited the furloughed workers to dinner. At one of the furlough gatherings, an anonymous person even paid the group’s bill.

"We are part of the community, and they're a part of us, so we work together hand in hand," said Acting Yampa District Ranger Brian McKinney. "It's good to know that when hard times come or the lack of funds comes, they're there for us."

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Impacts to the National Forest and its infrastructure were minimal.

“We had very negligible negative effects in terms of vandalized property or facilities,” Umphries said.

The Fish Creek Falls Recreation Area and Seedhouse Guard Station were open and maintained through the shutdown using special funds outside of those appropriated by Congress.

Farther south, McKinney said they saw no damage — most of the Forest Service recreation areas in South Routt have limited public access due to snow accumulation.

“Ongoing projects kind of got pushed back a little bit, but we’ll be making that time up, so not a huge impact,” he said.

Forest Service spokesperson Aaron Voos said the agency is working to prioritize work for employees and offices, as many projects were set aside during the 35-day partial shutdown, which occurred in the midst of Forest Service hiring for both full- and part-time positions. The agency is still waiting for chips to fall into place on those decisions, he said.

In the first few days since the government reopened, staff also is working to make sure equipment is running and access to buildings and computers is restored.

“(Staff is) very excited to be back to work, gung-ho and ready to go,” McKinney said. “I told them that it takes some time to reconnect with your peers and log on to your computers and get things going because after 35 days, passwords expire. It takes a little bit of time to get back up running.”

The employees will receive back pay. Voos said Routt National Forest is working to get this done as soon as possible. Umphries said the agency aims to pay employees for two missed pay periods by the end of the week.

The federal government has been reopened for three weeks as Trump and Congress members negotiate through border security and a wall on the Mexican border.

Umphries said she’s feeling OK about the possibility of another shutdown. She’s grateful that the agency is working through employee pay and getting staff their W-2s.

“I’m grateful to have a time that we can all spend together and touch our work again,” she said. “If we go, we go.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.