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New River affected by shutdown

NEW HAVEN, W.Va. -- Access to the New River Gorge Canyon Rim Visitor Center was blocked and signs warned the public of the closure, serving as a reminder of the federal government shutdown on its ninth day. 

However, that didn't stop some from seeing the park anyway. Cars lined the road beside the blocked road to the visitor center, and several people, like Linda and John Mealie, decided to walk to the overlook.

"They can close the park but they can't take away the view," Linda said as the two walked to the overlook.

Celebrating their 50th anniversary, the Mealies made plans in advance to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They decided to visit the New River Gorge on their way back home to Pittsburgh.

But the shutdown affected many of their plans with the closure of national park service facilities.

"All the good stuff was blocked off," John said of the trip to the Smoky Mountains. "We were upset. We had planned this trip and now, a lot of places we wanted to come see are closed."

October is the second-busiest month for the park, said Jeff West, chief ranger at the New River Gorge National River. With the shutdown, the park was reduced from about 100 employees to nine.

West said Gauley River whitewater rafting season is in full swing and there are lots of public and private access points.

He said many parks have closed off gates to all trails but it simply was not economically feasible to do that at the park.

"It would cost thousands of dollars to block off," he said. "We've not made any attempt to prevent the public from accessing it."

But fewer staff members mean a lessened response capability. West hopes people avoid the area. Those who do come to public access areas should use caution, he said.

"Keep dangers in mind and be as safe as you can be because our response is definitely impacted," he said.

He said the park service relies on the Fayette County Rope Rescue, team climbers and other agencies. He said the Raleigh and Fayette County sheriffs have offered to help in any way they can.

"We cannot blame folks for wanting to come to the national parks but there is a common sense approach," he said, later adding, "I think nationwide, there is a huge impact on business owners and travelers who have made plans well in advance."

Related: Shutdown won't stop Bridge Day

The effects of the shutdown were felt in Fayetteville, where business owner Maura Kistler said she has been trying to deal with an already slow season.

"We didn't have a sunny forecast all summer and we understood that," the owner of Water Stone Outdoors said. "We were trying to understand why it was down in September. It was a tough season for all of us."

Kistler said she has received multiple phone calls from people asking if the park and store are open.

"Now, the weather is beautiful and we are trying to salvage sales," Kistler said. "We have done a lot of Facebook posts, saying, 'we're open, we're open.' We've just been proactive in this."

Kistler said she thinks the reason business has been down most recently is because people assume the store is closed. She also thinks consumer confidence comes into play. 

"Southern West Virginia needs a leg up, not a kick in the ass," Kistler said. "This is a kick in the ass." 

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.


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